Many cleaning chemicals could cause some serious health risks, especially when used on a daily basis.
Key concerns with cleaning chemicals include:
Chemical-related problems can occur when chemicals aren’t stored properly or are mixed with chemicals that can produce very unhealthy, if not deadly, fumes.
Store chemicals in gallon containers off the floor so that they are easy to reach, with similar chemicals stored in the same area.
Many factors influence whether a cleaning chemical will cause health problems. Some important factors to consider include the following:
Chemicals in some cleaning products can be irritating to the skin or can cause rashes. Cleaning products that contain corrosive chemicals can cause severe burns if splashed on the skin or in the eyes. Mists, vapors and/or gases from cleaning chemicals can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.
Symptoms may include the following:
If you have health problems that you think are caused by using cleaning chemicals, make sure you tell your supervisor and ask to see a doctor.
Employees need to also recognize that bleach is very serious. If it’s mixed with ammonia, it can produce mustard gas. Other serious health risks are present when bleach is mixed with the following common cleaning chemicals:
Mixing cleaning products that contain bleach and ammonia can cause severe lung damage or death.
Safe work practices when using cleaning chemicals include the following:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines cleaners, sanitizers and disinfectants as follows:
Cleaners remove dirt through wiping, scrubbing or mopping.
Sanitizers contain chemicals that reduce, but do not necessarily eliminate, microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and molds from surfaces. Public health codes may require cleaning with the use of sanitizers in certain areas, like toilets and food preparation areas.
Disinfectants contain chemicals that destroy or inactivate microorganisms that cause infections. Disinfectants are critical for infection control in hospitals and other healthcare settings.
Cleaners, sanitizers and disinfectants serve different purposes, and it is important to choose the least hazardous cleaning chemical that will accomplish the task at hand. Before purchasing cleaning products, determine whether or not sanitizing or disinfecting is necessary. If sanitizing or disinfecting is not required, then choose a cleaner. In general, disinfectants and sanitizers are more hazardous than cleaners.
If sanitizing or disinfecting is necessary, be sure the product purchased is effective for the microorganisms being targeted.
Many employers and building managers are purchasing environmental-friendly, or “green,” cleaning chemicals, thinking they are safer for workers and the environment. However, placing the word “green” in a name or on a bottle does not ensure a chemical is safe. Employers should review the cleaning chemicals they purchase, including green cleaning products, to understand their health and safety hazards. Employers should choose the least hazardous cleaners.
Employers should note recent advances in safe cleaning practices and the availability of modern cleaning equipment that minimizes the use of chemicals.
Practices and equipment to consider include the following:
Building owners and planners should take building cleaning into consideration when designing new buildings, remodeling old buildings and choosing materials, such as flooring.
When choosing safer cleaning chemicals, employers can learn much from Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs). Employers must obtain and maintain MSDSs for all hazardous cleaning products and chemicals they use. MSDSs must be readily accessible to workers. Employers can use the information contained in the MSDSs to ensure that workers are properly protected.
MSDSs include the following important information:
Chemicals pose a wide range of health and safety hazards. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) is designed to ensure that information about these hazards and associated protective measures is communicated to workers. Worker training must be provided if the cleaning chemicals are hazardous. This training must be provided BEFORE the worker begins using the cleaners. Required training under the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard includes:
The following are important issues to be discussed with workers during training:
For more in-depth information on OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard, please check out OSHAcademy course 606 Hazard Communication for the Employee.
Your employer is required to provide a safe workplace. That means they must provide protective clothing, and safety gloves, when needed. Labels must also be visible on cleaning chemical containers. Your employer is also required to train on the hazards of the cleaning chemicals you are using and the safe work practices.
Your employer must train you to be knowledgeable of the following components:
Remember to wash your hands after using cleaning chemicals and before eating, drinking, or smoking.
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