Information about COSHH and cleaning products is usually straightforward and can be read from the Safety Data Sheet.
The main risks from using cleaning products are damage to the skin and the potential for splashes into the eyes. COSHH risk assessments for general cleaning activities are often simple. More severe risks, and risks by inhalation, may be present in specialised cleaning process where powerful chemicals may be used in more concentrated form and in larger quantities. For these activities, detailed assessments will be necessary. I’ll only look at general cleaning duties in this article.
Controlling which substances are used
When making judgements about COSHH risk assessments, we must remember that it is the risk from use of chemicals that is important, not the hazard from the chemical itself. Most general cleaning activities are low risk but significant risk may be produced when high hazard – “dangerous” – products are used.
An obvious starting point is to control which products are used and to eliminate, where we can, those that contain high hazard chemicals. We must be aware of all the hazards we introduce into the workplace but some hazards are worse than others. Make sure you have control over what is used. No cleaning product should be ordered without your knowledge and approval, and workers must not bring in their own products.
Because the usual risks are of damage to the skin and potential splashing into the eyes, try particularly to avoid these R-phrases, (alone or in combination):
- R27 Very toxic in contact with skin (cleaning products are unlikely to include these substances)
- R34 Causes burns
- R35 Causes severe burns (cleaning products are unlikely to include these substances)
- R41 Risk of serious damage to eyes
- R43 May cause sensitisation by skin contact
- R21 Harmful in contact with skin
- R24 Toxic in contact with skin
- R36 Irritating to eyes
- R38 Irritating to skin
- R42 May cause asthma
Controlling work methods
Just having wet hands for a long time or having them wet several times a day can lead to skin damage and dermatitis. Use methods that avoid workers getting their hands wet, get them to dry their hands thoroughly and apply hand cream. Wearing gloves can have the same problem when hands are wet through sweating.
If substances are harmful, try to provide them in diluted “ready to use” concentrations. Ensure workers know of the risks and know how to work with minimal skin contact and no splashing. If this does not protect them, provide them with gloves and other protective clothes as necessary. As a general check, if workers have to wear gloves for general cleaning duties, there is scope for removing products or improving work methods.
If substances have to be diluted, put the water in first, then add the concentrate. Provide goggles or a face shield if there is a risk of eye damage, especially sodium hydroxide (caustic soda). Never mix anything with bleach, toxic chlorine gas may be produced.
The storage area should be well-ventilated and out of sunlight.You don’t have to keep products locked away, but it may be advisable, especially if children or vulnerable adults could gain access. Keep the storage tidy and clean. Have a spill kit handy and train the workers in what to do.
Don’t store more than you have to. Keep products in their original containers or other well-marked closeable containers. Keep apart acids and alkalies, and dry and liquid products. Store flammable liquids separately.