Cleaning Health and Safety

The cleaning industry employs large numbers of people in all sectors of the economy from offices to factories, schools to hospitals, shops to aircraft.

This page provides occupational cleaning health and safety advice for people working in the cleaning industry.

Health and safety topics in cleaning

Key causes of accidents are slips and trips, manual handling and falls from height. The main health risks are back injuries and occupational dermatitis.

Risk assessment

What you must do

You must manage the health and safety risks in your workplace.

To do this you need to think about what, in your business, might cause harm to people and decide whether you are doing enough to prevent that harm. This is known as a risk assessment.

Once you have identified the risks, you need to decide how to control them and put the appropriate measures in place.

What you should know

A risk assessment is an important step that will help you to protect your workers and your business, as well as complying with the law. It helps you to focus on the risks that really matter in your workplace – the ones with the potential to cause real harm. In many instances, straightforward measures can readily control risks, eg ensuring spillages are cleaned up promptly so people do not slip, and cupboard drawers kept closed to ensure people do not trip. For most, that means simple, cheap and effective measures to ensure your most valuable asset – your workforce – is protected.

The law does not expect you to eliminate all risk, but you are required to protect people ‘as far as reasonably practicable.

Slips and trips

What you must do

You must ensure that your employees and anyone else who could be affected by your work (such as visitors and members of the public), are kept safe from harm. You must assess the risk from slips and trips and take reasonable precautions.

What you should know

Slips and trips remain the single most common cause of major injury in UK workplaces.

The process of cleaning can create slip and trip hazards, especially for those entering the area being cleaned, such as the cleaners. Examples include smooth floors left damp and slippery, trailing wires from a vacuum or buffing machine, which can present a trip hazard.

An effective cleaning regime requires a good management system to help you identify problem areas, decide what to do, act on decisions made and check that the steps have been effective.

Good communication is also needed at all levels to ensure messages are effective and the right action is taken, eg between equipment and chemical suppliers to ensure suitability of a product for the type of contaminant and floor.

Effective training and supervision is essential to ensure cleaning is undertaken to the correct standard. Cleaners need to be informed of their duties and why the cleaning needs to be undertaken in a particular way or at a particular time. Lack of understanding can lead to inappropriate shortcuts.

Contamination is implicated in almost all slip accidents. Regular and effective cleaning to remove contamination helps to reduce accidents.

Top tips:

  • use the correct amount of the right cleaning product
  • allow detergents enough time to work on greasy floors
  • maintain cleaning equipment so it remains effective
  • use a dry mop or squeegee on wet floors to reduce floor-drying time, but remember, while the floor is damp there is still a slip risk
  • even using a well-wrung mop will leave a thin film of water, sufficient enough to create a slip risk on a smooth floor
  • spot clean where possible

People often slip on floors that have been left wet after cleaning. Stop pedestrian access to smooth wet floors by using barriers, locking doors, or cleaning in sections. Signs and cones only warn of a hazard, they do not prevent people from entering the area. If the spill is not visible, they are usually ignored.

You must assess the risk from slips and trips and take reasonable precautions. Some simple things you might consider as part of your assessment are:

Wet floors

Most slips happen on wet or dirty floors. Ensure cleaning happens at the right time and is carried out in the correct manner, using the right products and equipment for the job. Ensure wet floors signs are always used.

Spillages

Ensure spillages are cleaned up immediately and the floor is left dry.

Floor in poor condition

It’s easy to trip on damaged floors so, if you spot an area of damage, highlight the damaged area, report it and where possible keep people away.

Trip hazards

Ensure cleaners use electrical sockets nearest to where they are working to reduce the risk of tripping.

Work-related contact dermatitis

What you must do

You must assess the risks to your employees of developing contact-related dermatitis.

Where there is a risk, you must provide adequate control measures, information, instruction and training.

What you should know

Work-related contact dermatitis is a skin disease caused by work. It is often called eczema and develops when the skin is damaged. This leads to redness, itching, swelling, blistering, flaking and cracking. The most susceptible parts of the body are the hands, followed by the forearms and face. It can be severe enough to keep you off work or even force you to change jobs.

You can prevent dermatitis developing with a few simple measures:

  • Avoid contact with cleaning products, food and water where possible, eg use a dishwasher rather than washing up by hand, use utensils rather than hands to handle food.
  • Protect your skin. Where you can, wear gloves when working with substances that can cause dermatitis and moisturise your hands to replenish the skin’s natural oils.
  • Check your hands regularly for the early stages of dermatitis, ie itchy, dry or red skin. These symptoms should be reported to a supervisor, as treatment is much more effective if dermatitis is caught early.

Control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH)

It will help you to understand what you need to do to comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 (as amended), which applies to the way you work with these substances.

What you must do

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 (as amended) requires employers to:

  • assess the risks that arise from the use of hazardous substances. This will include any arrangements to deal with accidents, incidents or emergencies, such as those resulting from serious spillages. The assessment must also include the health and safety risks arising from storage, handling or disposal of any of the substances
  • prevent, or if this is not reasonably practicable, control exposure to such substances
  • provide staff with information, instruction and training about the risks, steps and precautions the employer has taken to control these risks, eg provision of appropriate rubber gloves or appropriate eye protection

What you should know

Substances can take many forms and include:

  • chemicals
  • products containing chemicals
  • fumes
  • dusts
  • vapours
  • mists
  • nanotechnology
  • gases and asphyxiating gases
  • biological agents (germs). If the packaging has any of the hazard symbols, it is classed as a hazardous substance
  • germs that cause diseases such as leptospirosis or legionnaires disease and germs used in laboratories

Back pain and musculoskeletal disorders

What you must do

Employers have a legal duty to manage the risk of musculoskeletal disorders that their workers may be exposed to. Before anyone can start to control the risks in the workplace they need to know what they are, how serious they are and who is exposed to them.

The first step to managing risks is by carrying out a risk assessment. This should be carried out to decide if there are enough precautions in place or if more needs to be done to prevent harm.

An assessment of the risk of musculoskeletal problems in cleaners should take account of:

  • all cleaning tasks
  • the individual capacity of the cleaner
  • the loads involved
  • the work environment

This assessment should also consider the main risk factors, such as manual handing, awkward postures, work organisation and hand/arm vibration.

Manual handling activities should be avoided if it is reasonably practicable. If not reasonably practicable, employers should assess the risk from the activity and implement effective control measures.

In practice, employers have found that initiatives for reducing musculoskeletal problems in the workplace are most successful if they involve employees and their representatives working together on risk assessment and investigating accidents.

Why are cleaners at risk?
Cleaning work is demanding and labour intensive. Changes within the industry means that cleaners increasingly work under time constraints. Many tasks involve heavy manual work, putting strain on the heart, muscles and other tissues.

The main causes of aches, pains and discomfort in cleaners are:

  • manual handling – lifting, pulling, push/pull, carrying and holding loads. This can include heavy equipment and items such as polishers, vacuums, ladders, furniture and laundry
  • awkward postures – reaching, stretching, crouching, and kneeling. Work can involve these postures being undertaken repeatedly over a long period of time
  • work organisation – high-work speed, time pressures, poor training and often little consideration on how cleaning can be done
  • using vibrating equipment – equipment can be heavy and requires forceful exertion, it can also be poorly maintained and less well designed

Recognising a problem
There can be indicators of musculoskeletal problems in the workplace. These include:

  • an increase in sickness absence
  • reports of pain and discomfort from cleaners
  • reports from safety representatives
  • low motivation and dissatisfaction among cleaners – not wanting to do certain tasks
  • cleaners adapting their own equipment
  • cleaners wearing splints, bandages or back supports

Key messages

  • You can easily take action to prevent or minimise this type of injury
  • The preventive measures are cost effective
  • Involving staff is key to success
  • Training staff in proper lifting techniques, use of handling aids and raising awareness of the risks will reduce the likelihood of injuries in the future

Early detection and reporting of aches and pains is crucial.

Work at height

There are many examples within the cleaning industry of accidents involving working at height, for example: whilst working on stepladders, overstretching from ladders whilst window cleaning, standing on benches or chairs to clean high surfaces. With a little planning and by using competent people (who have the right experience and training) and the right equipment, these accidents could have been avoided.

What you must do

The law

Work at Height Regulations 2005 (as amended) place duties on employers, the self-employed, and any person that controls the work of others (for example facilities managers or building owners who may contract others to work at height).

As part of the Regulations, duty holders must ensure:

  • all work at height is properly planned and organised;
  • those involved in work at height are competent;
  • the risks from work at height are assessed and appropriate work equipment is selected and used;
  • the risks from fragile surfaces are properly controlled; and
  • equipment for work at height is properly inspected and maintained.

There is a simple hierarchy for managing and selecting equipment for work at height. Duty holders must:

  • avoid work at height where they can;
  • use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls where they cannot avoid working at height; and
  • where they cannot eliminate the risk of a fall, use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur.

For further information please see the HSE website