Your employer has clear health and safety responsibilities under the law:
Health and safety policy - this should contain detail on who is responsible for the supervision of workers’ health, safety and welfare.
Health and safety instructions - employers have an obligation to ensure that any instruction or training is given in an understandable way, for example this might mean producing advice in other languages.
Risk assessment - a competent person should be appointed to carry out risk assessments. The assessment should look at the hazards encountered every day and look to eliminate them, establishing as safe a system of work possible.
Your safety representative should be included in the risk assessment process.
Where elimination is not possible, measures should be introduced to reduce their effect to the lowest level possible.
The risk assessment should be gender sensitive, considering physical, physiological and psychological differences between men and women that can determine how risks affects them. For more information, please see this TUC advice document:
Hazards that the risk assessment should consider:
Cleaners maybe exposed to a range of different products:
All chemicals supplied by the employer to clean dust and dirt etc, should have clear instructions on how they should be used, where the product should be used and if there is a need to wear any protective clothing (PPE), such as gloves or an overall.
Chemical use is covered by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (often abbreviated to COSHH). For more information on COSHH see the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) web site “COSHH and cleaners - key messages”:
Data relating to any chemical used, including its disposal, should be given to you.
Exposure to other chemical hazards
The risk assessment should also consider the chemical substances that cleaners are exposed to from the matter they are using the chemical product to clean, be this dust, dirt, soot etc., when they clean to remove it from surfaces such as the floor, furniture etc. In addition, the chemical ingredients of cleaning products must be considered.
Chemical substances may enter the body in different ways, depending on the product and the way it is issued – this may be through the respiratory system when it is inhaled, by direct contact with eyes or skin, or by accidental ingestion.
The BMA (British Medical Association) states that there is scientific evidence of increased respiratory symptoms in cleaners. Good ventilation is one of the ways in which this issue can be addressed.
Biological hazards such as bodily fluids are covered by the COSHH regulations. A clear procedure needs to be established when dealing with body fluids, containing details such as:
- what equipment is to be used, including PPE
- the disposal method of dirty liquid or material
- any chemicals used to sterilise the contaminated area.
Lone working/Unsocial or Long hours
As a cleaner your job may mean working in isolation from colleagues, particularly if you work in large buildings, often with many floors. This may lead to a feeling of isolation from colleagues and also might impact practically if there is a risk of physical assault from intruders. If this is the case, there should be a system to check-in and/or a reporting system for cleaners.
Cleaning work most of the time outside of the usual daily working periods, either early mornings, evenings, or nights.
Tiredness can contribute towards accidents as workers are more susceptible to injury when their concentration might be affected.
Cleaners often have more than one job and may need to commute between them.
The workload in the cleaning sector is very high compared with other sectors and work must be done at a high pace. Due to the economic situation and the fact that there is so much outsourcing in the cleaning sector, leading to cost cutting, meaning there are fewer cleaning workers do the same amount of work.
This can lead to musculoskeletal ill-health problems amongst cleaners, who report a high workloads and time pressures, and difficulty doing a good job in the allocated time.
Slippery surfaces, uneven flooring, bad lighting, falling objects and sharp objects are just some of the hazards cleaners can encounter every working day. Warning signs and cones should be used where floors may be wet and slippery.
There may also be hazards from the work equipment-such as buffers, mops or vacuums, and and whether it is suitable for the individual worker in terms of their physical strength etc. Postural and ergonomic factors must also be taken into consideration, as well as the weight of loads handled by cleaners.
Vibration can reinforce negative effects of other physical strains such as awkward postures, handling heavy loads, repetitive movements etc.
Where cleaning must be done at height, a risk assessment should be used to identify the type of equipment that has to be used so that the job can be done safely.
Other physical hazards are linked to the design of the premises, and the weight and design of the furniture that cleaners must handle.
Heat stress can occur in hot environments.
All equipment should be examined and maintained on a regular basis. In addition, electrical equipment should also be subject to regular testing.
Older machines may vibrate more than they were originally designed to do - potentially causing muscle and nerve problems. These machines should be maintained on a regular basis and disposed of when their effective working life is over.
The HSE has acknowledged that where there is little or no control on how a job is carried out where work is routine, mundane, or done in isolation, then stress can be a major problem. The HSE has established the Management Standards to help deal with stress:
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Personal Protective Equipment refers to any item cleaners might have to wear to protect themselves from hazards such as dust, chemicals, or blood. This should be supplied free of charge, and be equipment such as gloves, overalls, shoes, and masks (the type of PPE required will be determined by the risk assessment).
The above hazards and others identified in the workplaceshould be considered in risk assessments, and appropriate control measured put in place. The risk assessment should be shared with those who do the job. Risk assessments must meet the legal standard of “suitable and sufficient”. If you think your workplace risk assessment does not meet this standard or you do not have a risk assessment, then please contact your RMT Health and Safety Representative.
RMT Health and Safety Representatives
RMT safety reps can discuss with employers’ members collective and/or individual health and safety problems to get them resolved.
Safety Reps have legal rights in relation to health, safety and welfare, including the right to investigatepotential hazards and causes ofaccidents at the workplace - and to investigateemployee complaints concerninghealth, safety and welfare at work.
If you are not an RMT safety rep, but are interested in finding out more about the role, please contact email@example.com
If you don’t want to become a rep, but do want to improve health and safety in your workplace then please support your local safety rep if you have one; these reps have lots of legal rights – but to be successful need your help and support to make improvements in your workplace.