“We’re talking about office workers here . . . not biohazard handlers . . . why do we need to provide employee training on chemical use and safety?”  Valid question.  For the answer, go look in your cleaning closet for the bathroom and/or kitchen/break room.  Do you purchase cleaners in bulk?  (Most companies at least buy an industrial size, so that they aren’t constantly running to the store for more toilet bowl cleaner and floor mopping solution.)  If so, you are required by OSHA to provide training on the occupational health and safety procedures on cleaning chemical use and safety training for your employees.  Even if you purchase “green” cleaning products, your employees still need to take precautions when handling these products, in order to avoid unforeseen safety issues. 

Safety Issues With Cleaning Chemicals

  •  Ingredients are the primary safety hazard, therefore . . .
  •  Storage of the cleaning product is an issue
  •  Usage of the cleaning product is an issue (what to use it on, what to mix it with and what not to mix it with)
  • Ventilation in the area where the chemical is used is an issue
  •  How to handle splashes and spills is an issue
  •  What to do if the cleaning chemical comes in contact with the skin or eyes or mouth is an issue
  •  What to do if mists, vapors, or gases are released is an issue

Why Are These Factors Such Issues?

Cleaning products can be – at best – irritating to the skin – or worst  - can cause severe chemical burns, cause trouble wheezing and difficulty breathing, triggering asthma attacks. Mixing cleaning products such as those that contain bleach and ammonia can cause dangerous gases that cause severe lung damage or even death. 

Basic Safety Steps

Employees must use appropriate chemicals for the task in the appropriate manner

 Cleaners remove dirt and must be wiped, scrubbed, or mopped

 Sanitizers reduce but don’t always eliminate bacteria, viruses and molds from surfaces.  Public health codes may require cleaning certain areas, like toilets and food preparation areas

  Disinfectants contain chemicals that destroy or inactivate microorganisms that cause infections.  Disinfectants are critical for use in hospitals and healthcare settings.

It is important that these three classifications of cleaners are used appropriately.  When cleaning, the least hazardous chemical should be used.  When purchasing cleaning products, as well as when using, the determination must be made whether or not sanitizing or disinfecting is necessary. 

Even if using “green” products, one must still review the cleaning chemicals to understand their health and safety hazards.  Again, choose the least hazardous materials to do the job. 

Training Employees on Safe Work Procedures with Cleaning Products

To ensure office safety, employers must establish a safety and health policy by training their employees the safety procedures of properly using cleaning chemicals.  This should include: warning employees about never mixing cleaning products: specifically chemicals that contain bleach and ammonia; to know which chemicals must be diluted and how to correctly dilute the cleaners; to use and store each chemical correctly; safe work procedures in the event of an emergency spill of the cleaning chemical; to avoid a chemical burn by wearing the proper PPE (personal protective equipment) that should be worn when using the cleaning product (gloves, goggles, etc.); labeling all containers of cleaning products, clearly identifying their contents and hazards; how to operate ventilation as needed during cleaning tasks to prevent a buildup of hazardous vapors; and the importance of washing after using the cleaning chemicals.

A thorough safety and health policy intended to promote office safety must include training employees on the proper use, storage, and safety procedures of cleaning up cleaning chemicals according to OSHA workplace health and safety procedures.