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How to use cleaning chemicals safely

17 December 2018

Cleaning professionals deal with all sorts of chemicals on a daily basis, but all too often we don't take the time to carefully read the safety instructions and warnings on the backs of the different products we use. By not doing this, we are potentially exposing ourselves to severe long-term health problems. 

For example, one study showed that women working as cleaners or regularly using cleaning products for 20 years suffered a decline in lung function equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day, according to the Independent. To help you stay safe and well, Zoro has put together this useful guide to raise awareness about chemical products and improve the safety of their use.

How to recognise dangerous products

By law, all products that contain hazardous chemicals must be labelled with the appropriate CLP symbols. This EU-standard chemical classification system is your key to understanding the potential health effects associated with various products and chemicals. 

If you start paying attention to the products you use, you will soon see that many of them carry these warnings. All sorts of everyday essentials — including deodorant, bleach, nail polish, and insect spray — contain potentially dangerous chemicals. You can view each CLP pictogram and find out more information about the classification system on the British Cleaning Council website.

How to use hazardous products safely

The only safe way to use chemicals is to follow the directions on the product label. Use all products with care, whether that means putting on some goggles, wearing a respirator mask, or using rubber gloves. Certain cleaning agents will require a particular type of protective glove to ensure you're fully-protected: Zoro has a wide range of chemically resistant gloves that might work well. It is also wise to have first aid supplies to hand in case of emergency. 

Exactly what you need will be laid out in the product's accompanying safety directions. Only ever use as much of the chemical as stated on the instructions — using twice as much will not make the product twice as effective. Never eat or drink near chemicals and keep them away from children and pets.

How to store chemical products 

Storing chemicals safely is just as important as using them safely. You should always keep chemicals in the containers you purchased them in and make sure they are tightly sealed after use. Some chemicals have their own special storage instructions, so always read the label. Flammable substances, for example, should be stored away from heat, while bleach should be stored away from cleaning products that contain ammonia and acids as they can react to make chlorine gas if accidentally mixed.

Many products have child-proof caps on them to prevent children from using them, but research has shown that these caps are not as safe as we think, and little ones as young as three are able to open them. So, if you store any of your cleaning products in the homes of your clients, make sure they're kept somewhere children won't be able access them. 

How to dispose of chemical products 

Getting rid of used or partially-used cleaning products in a safe way is just as important as storing them properly. If any of your chemical products are leaking, have passed their use-by date, or generally look bad, you will need to dispose of them. 

Never just pour any unwanted chemicals down the sink and throw away the empty container — anything you put down the sink will ultimately end up in a river or the sea. Always follow any advice on the label and, if in doubt, take your used chemicals to your local waste and recycling centre.

What to do if you come into contact with a toxic substance

Harmful chemicals can get into your system through direct skin contact, by breathing in chemical gas, or by ingesting them directly. There are many factors that play into whether a substance is toxic, and different chemicals will affect people differently. Prevention is always easier than the cure, and if you use the right personal protective gear and follow the instructions on the label, you should never come into contact with a toxic substance. 

But, if you do, it is wise to have read any instructions beforehand, so you know what to do. Generally, washing any direct contact areas with water is recommended, but if you ingest any dangerous chemicals, seek medical attention immediately. It is important that both you and your staff know what to do in case of an accident, so it's beneficial to provide full training. High Speed Training offers a straightforward online training course in hazardous substances.

The common theme of chemical safety is to take your time, read all available information, and understand what you're doing. This will minimize the risks involved in using chemicals and protect you from trips to the hospital.