While cleaning may seem like a relatively safe profession with fewer risks than other trades such as construction, you might be surprised by just how many hazards cleaners encounter every day. As a cleaning business owner, it is important that you know what cleaning hazards in the workplace are and how to avoid them as best possible.
You will also benefit from knowing what you are obligated to do in order to manage the health and safety cleaning risks in your commercial cleaning business.
As with all employers in Australia, cleaning business owners will no doubt know that they have a legal obligation under the Workplace Health and Safety Act to ensure the health and safety of their staff, their customers, and even visitors to their work site. This is why cleaners OHS is a top priority for commercial cleaners.
Nine essential terms cleaning business owners should understand
Things that might hurt or cause harm, including chemicals, heat, equipment, manual handling of heavy objects, sharp objects, and electricity.
The chance that a hazard may hurt someone. For example, mopping the floor of a department store when it is closed poses less of a risk then mopping the floor during at peak hour trading.
3. Risk assessment
A strict process for evaluating risk involved at a specific site or job. Risk assessments are performed via a site walkthrough, generally completed by a site supervisor before commencing work.
4. Material safety data sheet
Commonly referred to as an ‘SDS’, this document is legally required for every cleaning chemicals supplied and used in the workplace by cleaners. An SDS explains how to safely store, transport, handle, and dispose of chemicals. It also includes information on how to clean up spills, first aid advice, and contact details for the manufacturer.
5. Hierarchy of control for commercial cleaning
The ideal way to manage risks and hazards. A hierarchy of control must be followed in the listed order. Elimination should be the first solution sought for the control of any hazards.
6. Workplace policy and procedures for cleaners
A safe work document that every employee should be familiar with. It includes the WHS policy for all staff, specific to the tasks performed by the business, as well as the cleaners OHS documentation.
7. Safety induction and training
A safety induction covers the things your staff need to know about how to remain safe on the job. Employers have a duty of care to provide training in all WHS matters specific to the work.
8. Accident and incident reporting
Accident reporting needs to be as detailed as possible and include names, dates, locations, and causes of the incident. The purpose of reporting incidents or accidents is to help identify changes in the work environment that can help reduce the risk of harm.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) for cleaners generally includes gloves, goggles, aprons, boots, and masks, to name just a few. Training in how to correctly use PPE is important; equally important is that PPE items are returned clean and ready to use again, or to be disposed of correctly.
How bad cleaning practices can increase your risk
While good commercial cleaning equipment and safe work practices help reduce the risk of safety incidents occurring, poor cleaning practices can actually increase the chances of accidents happening. Examples of this include:
- floors only being partly dried when they should be fully dried before being used;
- spills and contaminants left unattended without safety measures such as signage in place;
- any build-up of residue from cleaning products that reduces slip resistance;
- commercial cleaning equipment and their electrical cords being left across walkways;
- ad hoc cleaning that is not planned and merely reactive;
- poor, inappropriate, or dirty cleaning equipment being used; and
- incorrect cleaning procedures or products being used.
Five health and safety tips for cleaning businesses
While there are several strategies that may be considered for your cleaning business, these five points are a great place to start.
1. Cleaning methods
- Leave a dry and clean surface free of moisture or other dry waste.
- Avoid letting cleaning products accumulate.
- Maintain the non-slip properties of the surface you are cleaning.
- Follow the manufacturers’ cleaning advice when using their products.
2. Cleaning schedules
- Cleaning schedules should be well-planned and systematic.
- During quiet periods, consider conducting routine cleaning daily.
- Include periodical deep/comprehensive cleaning.
- Ensure that you have a rapid response plan for spills.
- Include both indoor and outdoor spaces.
- Include customer/visitor area.
- Be prepared for bad weather.
3. Cleaning products and equipment
Ensure that your products and equipment are fit for the cleaning task at hand. For example, consider a paper towel instead of a wet mop for small spills, Include barriers and signs that keep people away from any wet area if “clean-to-dry” is not possible.
4. Cleaning personnel
Cleaning jobs should only be performed by cleaners who are well-trained, equipped, and supervised. Supervisors should be experienced, well-trained, and capable of overseeing safe work practices.
5. Training for cleaning staff
Arguably one of the most important tips for a cleaning and sanitising business is upskilling the cleaning staff who are on the tools every day. When developing training plans for your cleaning staff, consider starting with the following fundamentals:
- Critical sections of the occupational health and safety cleaning regulations and the Manual task code of practice;
- The roles and responsibilities of the employers, workers, and others;
- Consultation to identify manual tasks, and to assess and control risks;
- The primary function of the spine, body postures, types of muscle work and principles of levers;
- The relationship between the human body and the potential for injury;
- Actions in manual tasks that lead to various types of injuries;
- Possible causes of cleaning risks; and
- Regulation strategies for manual tasks.
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