Health and Safety in cleaning

Facilities managers need to be confident that health and safety has been considered for every aspect of the cleaning supply chain, from product selection to the final result, says Jangro Operations Director Joanne Gilliard.

Health and safety must be at the forefront of any facilities manager’s mind when contracting cleaning and maintenance services for a building. Protecting workers and visitors and the wider environment is both a legal and moral obligation, and the responsibility lies with the entire cleaning supply chain.

Safety does not come about by chance, and most accidents happen because action has not been taken to prevent them. The cleaning industry deals with chemicals that could be dangerous if handled inappropriately, as well as other tools and equipment that require proper training to operate. At the same time, cleaning operatives move around a lot on their job, and rely on the safety features of the facility that they are cleaning.

For instance, it’s all very well fitting all cleaning machinery with cable retainers to avoid damage and stretching, and insisting that cleaning operatives use back-pack vacuum cleaners in buildings with carpeted stairs. However if there are no anti-slip nosings on the stairs, then there is still an accident waiting to happen.

There are clear health and safety rules in place, of course, including the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health legislation which deals with exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. But facilities managers who know what best practice looks like from the cleaning industry will be more alert to potential breaches of protocol, and will also be aware of their own responsibilities.

On-site storage

Some contract cleaners will elect to store cleaning products on-site when delivering a cleaning service. This poses an obvious health and safety risk to a facility, and it is vital that a comprehensive risk assessment is performed for every cleaning agent or tool that is going to be stored on site. If possible find a secure, locked place to store them, safely out of the reach of workers or members of the public.

Quality contract cleaners will work together with facilities managers to perform this and other risk assessments. Most chemicals used for cleaning are not dangerous if used properly, and if the operative knows what to do if something goes wrong (such as spillage). But some chemicals need more careful handling than others.

Knowledge of the basic ‘dos and don’ts’ of the cleaning industry will also help facilities managers to identify health and safety breaches. Quality suppliers will provide guidance on dilution rates and encourage responsible usage and dosage control, while mixing products should be a clear red flag – any reputable supplier would tell cleaning operatives never to do this. Mixing products could cause a chemical reaction, even producing hazardous gasses.

Placing cleaning products in unmarked containers is another major mistake to be avoided at all times. The consequences of putting bleach in a water or drink bottle do not bear thinking about. If the worst does happen, it’s important to have contingencies in place in an emergency. Has the facilities manager communicated to the cleaning team where first aiders can be found and how to contact them in the building? Does the cleaning team know where to find your safety data sheet?

Quality control

Only suppliers that can prove tight quality control procedures should be considered by cleaning contractors. Look for companies that comply with recognised quality standards such as BS EN ISO 9001:2000 model for production, installation and servicing, as well as other international safety and quality standards.

By having these stringent standards in place, cleaning product suppliers take the burden off those further down the supply chain and their clients, including contract cleaners and facilities managers, giving them confidence in the products being used. But health and safety is about more than just complying with legislation – continually reviewing, updating and improving systems in place is crucial.

Reputable cleaning companies will also provide the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for cleaning operatives, as well as training – not just at induction, but ongoing throughout their career. The correct training is essential to ensuring that health and safety standards are properly adhered to, and should be accessible and cost-effective – e-learning modules are a highly effective way of providing high quality training to a large audience, for instance.

Jangro is a dynamic force in the cleaning supply industry and is the largest network of independent janitorial distributors in the UK and Ireland. For more information go to www.jangro.net

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