The cleaning industry provides essential products and services to help maintain a healthy environment for commercial and residential locations of all sizes and types, including office complexes, schools, hospitals, and food service operations. The industry also includes manufacturers and distributors of cleaning products.
Employees in the cleaning industry face a variety of hazards. Workers may be exposed to hazardous chemicals or work with equipment that can cause an injury if not used properly. Additionally, areas where cleaning services are being performed—restaurants, medical offices, machine shops—can present their own hazards. However, by taking steps to prevent injuries on the job, you’re helping safeguard your employees and your small business.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs provides general guidance for implementing a health and safety program. These programs help businesses:
- Prevent workplace injuries and illnesses
- Improve compliance with laws and regulations
- Reduce costs, including significant reductions in workers’ compensation premiums
- Engage workers
- Enhance their social responsibility goals
- Increase productivity and enhance overall business operations
For every dollar spent on a workers’ comp claim, $5 are spent in indirect costs, including lost productivity, hiring and retraining staff, and replacing or repairing damaged equipment. The most common injuries experienced by janitorial employees are:
- Sprains, strains, and soft-tissue injuries
- Cuts, lacerations, and punctures
- Chemical and heat burns
By implementing proper safety techniques, you may be able to reduce the number of workers’ comp claims by your employees—and reduce your overall costs. Be sure that all employees, even part-time help and trainees, are well trained in safety procedures.
Here are some tips for keeping workers safe at a cleaning company, janitorial services company, or custodial services company:
- Adequately train workers on the health and safety issues applicable in their workplaces.
- If required, only allow workers who are qualified or certified to do so complete certain tasks.
- Keep records of workplace injuries and illnesses.
- Provide medical exams when required by OSHA regulations and provide workers access to medical and exposure records.
- Provide personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Keep Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) related to each of the chemicals used by the company.
- Label containers of hazardous substances with the chemical name of the material and hazard warnings.
- Provide a written hazard communication program to employees that includes a list of all of the hazardous materials at the worksite and an explanation of how you will comply with OSHA’s standards for each.
- Train workers who will be exposed to dangerous chemicals in a language they understand. This training should include the names and locations of hazardous chemicals at the worksite, the procedures that have been developed to protect workers from the chemicals, and ways to measure hazardous chemicals at the worksite.
- Provide equipment that is ergonomically designed, like backpack vacuums.
- Consider purchasing quieter vacuums and floor machines to help reduce employee noise fatigue.
- Make sure employees have plenty of training and practice using hard-to-handle machines like buffers and carpet cleaning equipment.
- Allow workers enough time to work safely.
- Rotate employees’ tasks, especially those that require using the same motion over and over.
- Consider using mechanical equipment to do repetitive employee tasks.
- Consider providing slip-resistant footwear to employees since it can reduce as much as 75 percent of work-related slips and falls.
- Provide enough ladders and footstools of the right height for the job site.
- Provide training in safe lifting methods.
- Keep cords, plugs, and outlets in good condition.
- Store cleaning supplies and other chemicals in their original containers.
- Make safety information available for each chemical used in the workplace and ensure employees know where to find it.
- Schedule at least two people per shift, especially at night.
- Make sure all employee injury claims are investigated to help uncover any fraudulent claims.
Perhaps most importantly, small business owners should require that all employee injuries—no matter how small—are reported ASAP.
Janitorial service workers should be trained to:
- Take a few moments during their shifts to stretch or take breaks, especially if they spend a lot of time carrying loads, bending, reaching, or repeating the same motions.
- Not carry more than they can handle. Make extra trips if necessary or ask for help. Objects weighing more than 50 pounds require a two-person lift.
- When setting down heavy items, they should let their leg muscles carry it down.
- Use knee pads to reduce knee injuries when cleaning items in low drawers or shelves.
- Use a kneeler or stool when working at low levels.
- Use a step stool to reach items on high shelves.
- Use long-handled mops and dusters for areas that are hard to reach.
- Use wet floor signs or caution tape at all entrances to areas where wet floors or stairs are being cleaned. Avoid walking across wet floors.
- Never stand on chairs, desks, boxes, or other objects to reach high areas.
- Never stand on the top rung of the ladder and don’t over-reach or lean too far to one side when standing on a ladder.
- Never use a step ladder as a straight ladder. Step ladders should be fully open with spreaders locked in place.
- Never push down on trash with their hands or feet to compact it. There may be sharp objects that can puncture them.
- Never pick up broken glass with their hands; use a broom and dustpan
- Watch for improperly discarded needles when working in dental or medical facilities.
- Wear gloves if there’s an opportunity to come in contact with a needle. Two pairs of gloves can provide added protection.
- Dispose of bodily fluids in separate marked bags and throw out gloves after handling body waste.
- Avoid using aerosols; instead, use pump sprayers and spray a small amount onto the cleaning cloth rather than spraying large amounts onto the surface.
- Avoid feather dusting, which makes the dust airborne and increases the risk of inhalation. Use damp dusting methods with microfiber cloths.
- Avoid sweeping. Instead, vacuum hard floors with a backpack vacuum and then damp mop the floor to keep dust from becoming airborne.
- Use a respirator if there’s a chance they will inhale harmful dust, fumes, vapors, or gases.
- Move their feet when changing direction between tasks, not twist from the waist.
- Only use cleaning chemicals in well-ventilated areas and wash their hands after using them.
- Keep their hands, face, hair, clothing, and jewelry away from moving machine parts.
- Keep floors dry near electrical equipment and outlets.
- Wear non-skid, closed-toe waterproof shoes with low heels.
- Don’t wear over-sized or baggy pants that could cause them to trip.
- Store chemicals in designated storage areas below eye level.
- Clean up spills immediately.
- Push carts instead of pulling them, where possible.
Employees using cleaning chemicals should:
- When exposed to hazardous chemicals, dust, or gases, use the correct equipment for protection. Personal protective equipment includes gloves, safety goggles, and masks.
- Many cleaning products used at work contain bleach, ammonia, or other chemicals that can have harmful health effects. These cleaning products may release gases or fumes. Follow instructions when handling these chemicals and use the proper protective equipment.
- When using chemicals such as ammonia, follow the label’s instructions. Ammonia is a strong, colorless gas. If the gas is dissolved in water, it’s called liquid ammonia. Employees may be poisoned if they swallow or touch products that contain large amounts of ammonia. Breathing ammonia also may make employees feel sick.
- Work in well-ventilated areas.
- Mix chemical concentrations outdoors.
- Turn on fans or vents while cleaning bathrooms and don’t clean all of the bathrooms at the same time.
- Wash hands and take off any protective equipment used while cleaning.
While small business owners can’t plan for every type of emergency, every workplace should have a plan for dealing with a variety of scenarios, including medical emergencies, fires, floods, chemical spills, and robberies. All workers should be trained on what’s in the plan, and what they should do specifically in the case of an emergency.
Every workplace should have a plan for handling injuries. The plan should spell out how workers should report injuries, and how to get help promptly. Plan administrators should:
- Explain how employees should contact medical personnel if needed.
- Have first aid kits, gloves, and other protective equipment available for staff. Lacerations and puncture wounds should be immediately treated and disinfected to prevent infection.
- Make sure workers know how to report an incident where there is exposure to blood.
Accidents can happen anywhere. Remind employees why safety training is important, and provide continual reminders and retraining.
To help encourage employees to make safety a priority at work, consider offering prizes or awards for those who follow the safety program and hit time milestones while remaining injury-free. Prizes like lottery scratch-offs, coffee gift cards, or 30 minutes of extra PTO can help motive your team. Remember, fewer workplace injuries and workers’ comp claims can help save your business money and resources that can be reallocated for better equipment and facilities.
Sometimes, even with the best safety training in place—accidents happen. It’s important to be prepared when they do.
Thanks for reading! Please note that this content is intended for educational purposes only. As best practices change regularly, you should refer to your trusted advisor for specific counsel. If you’re a small business owner, learn more about workplace safety or check your workers’ comp rate in 3 minutes.