The seven deadly sins

03 March 2016

Maureen Kelso, head of standards & verification at the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc), identifies the most common mistakes that can lead to cleaning operatives either injuring themselves or putting others at risk while carrying out their daily tasks

The "seven deadly sins" are the crucial elements that cannot be ignored in the health and safety training requirements of the cleaning operative. The main objective of training is to protect the cleaning operative, others and also the environment, therefore the training needs are broad and require refreshing on a regular basis to ensure comprehension, compliance and best practice. In the event of an incident or accident the operative may require re-training or refresher training immediately or as soon as possible after.

There are many differing styles of training from e-learning to mobile phone apps which suit many, but not all cleaning operatives have access to use these or the confidence.

In my opinion and that of BICSc, hands-on practical training is the most effective means of confirming the cleaning operative's understanding and competency in carrying out the task through demonstration of the skill by an individual who has been certificated to carry out assessments of this nature.

To ensure success, the training should be accurate, relevant and interesting! Boring training sessions do not get the message across so interaction is key. The session can be conducted by splitting the operatives into small groups and devising a multiple choice Q & A or story boards looking at what’s right or wrong. All training sessions must be recorded and signed by the operative and the trainer.

The seven deadly sins can be grouped together as the following:

1) Incorrect use of chemicals

The deadliest sins surrounding chemical use include:

i) Failing to read the label.

ii) Using the incorrect dilution rates, which causes damage to surfaces and poor cleaning standards.

iii) Splash back to the eyes / skin during decanting of chemicals.

 iv) Mixing chemicals – there are no MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) available for the mixing of chemicals.

2) Incorrect use of warning signs

The absence of warning signs as well as the incorrect positioning and information displayed e.g. displaying a wet floor sign when the floor is dry or not displaying any sign when the floor is wet. The over-wetting of floors should also be incorporated into this section. 

3) Incorrect use of PPE

The incorrect use of PPE (personal protective equipment) includes PPE that is badly fitted, the wrong size and/or not to EN standard – or no PPE at all!

4) The use of personal headphones / earphones

The use of personal earphones / headphones can be a dangerous situation as the operatives cannot hear any alarms that may sound or they can be distracted from the task they are undertaking. This can be particularly dangerous if the operative is operating machinery and they are alarmed by a colleague or other individual by failing to hear them approach.

5) Working at height

Working at height should only be undertaken when the operative has been fully trained in the use of the access equipment and the relevant PPE. It must be discouraged at all other times. This means that un-trained operatives should not even climb on chairs or desks to reach difficult areas. Extension poles or other appropriate equipment must be used instead.

6) Slips, trips & falls

Slips, trips, falls and manual handling must be incorporated into basic training, as this is probably the highest group where operatives either injure themselves or put others at risk through incorrect positioning of cables, equipment or machinery over reaching or lack of manual handling training.

7) Potential for needle stick injuries / electric shock

Two of the highest risks to operatives must include needle stick injuries and electric shock. Therefore correct training in handling waste in particular – not lifting waste out of a bin with your hand – and the checking of cables prior to use, particularly cables that will be trailing in water, can help prevent these types of injuries.

Health & safety training should be seen as a ‘living’ process and not something that needs to be carried out following an accident or incident. All members of the team should play their part and in some areas of the industry awards or merits are given for staff members who actively report things that they see or even consider a risk. Always remember the operatives that undertake the roles are often better placed to make suggestions or recommendations to improve the process or procedure.