Cleaning firms need to do more to reduce workers’ risk of exposure to dangerous substances, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has urged.
Around four million people are employed by cleaning organisations across Europe and many come into close contact with dangerous substances every day, the agency said.
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Risks arise from the use of potent chemicals in cleaning agents, the substances being cleaned – especially dust, soot and mould – and chemical reactions caused by applying cleaning agents to substances or using them with other products. Many cleaning agents include fragrances or perfumes which can cause allergic reactions, it claimed.
It advised cleaning companies to record the products being used and to conduct a workplace risk assessment considering the type, intensity, length and frequency or potential exposure to each product.
Comprehensive procedures should also be put in place to manage, identify and safely dispose of chemicals being used and companies should substitute as many “dangerous” substances as possible.
The agency said one cleaning company in Sweden reduced the number of dangerous substances it used to a limited number of approved chemicals, while the Association of Public Purchasers in Denmark changed Danish procurement guidelines to ensure public authorities would not purchase cleaning agents that contain dangerous substances.
“Where dangerous substances cannot be eliminated or substituted, employers should ensure that substances are used and diluted as per the manufacturer’s instructions and that they are not mixed with other products. They should also consult and inform workers and ensure that cleaning work is supervised and carried out in a well-ventilated space,” the agency said.
Other recommendations included ensuring that staff are provided with personal protective equipment and work clothing; offering training on safe working practices; drawing up a skin protection plan and monitoring the health of workers who use potent cleaning products.