Any type of work activity carries a series of specific risks. For each of these, the potential danger will be greater or lesser, depending on the probability of an accident or unwanted event and also the severity of the possible consequences associated with it. From this point of view, traditionally, occupational risks in cleaning are not usually considered excessively important. In other words, it is usually interpreted that cleaning tasks do not entail high-risk activities, speaking in absolute terms of danger.
Despite this generalized idea, it can be proven that there are a multitude of risks that can lead to minor or serious workplace accidents, as demonstrated by the occupational accident statistics in the sector in recent years. These statistics tell us that the average percentage of work accidents in the cleaning sector is distributed as follows.
The accident rate associated with occupational risks in cleaning
Falls from height caused 18% of all accidents in the sector. Half of them, 9%, are stair-related falls, and the other half are non-stair-related falls. 14% of the accidents were as a result of overexertion and the same proportion, another 14% were due to falls at the same level. Cuts and punctures accounted for 10% of the total and blows in general accounted for 9% of the accidents. In addition to these and to a lesser extent, entrapments, shocks, burns, inhalation of toxic products and electrocutions also occurred.
But in addition to these risks that cause workplace accidents, we have many others that cause common illnesses and occupational diseases. For example, musculoskeletal disorders are the main cause of sick leave for personnel in the sector. As we all know, cleaning tasks are very repetitive, many performed with manual tools, requiring excessive effort and uncomfortable postures.
The use of chemical products is another important risk factor in the sector, the risk of exposure depends on the concentration of the chemical project and the way in which it is used.
And what can we say about the psychosocial factors, on numerous occasions the workers in the cleaning sector do so outside of normal working hours, and are not part of the regular staff. These schedules leave them excluded from the social network that is established among workers in the workplace. Not only that, on many occasions they also suffer unfair contempt from other workers or have to endure day after day, exhausting days of work against the clock, as in the case of cleaning work in hospitality.
After the above, it can be said that stating that cleaning is an activity with a reduced level of risk is perhaps somewhat risky.
Safety recommendations in the area of cleaning
As we can deduce, from the varied catalogue of occupational risks in cleaning, the preventive measures and safety recommendations for each and every one of them, would be enough to write a monograph. However, we can make a series of generic recommendations that serve to avoid unsafe acts in cleaning jobs.
Thus, for example, to avoid risks related to falls from different levels, it is advisable to only use portable ladders in good condition and if they are more than 5 meters in length, have an absolute guarantee of their resistance. In this sense, if the work is carried out at a height of more than 3.5 meters, it will be carried out with a safety harness or another similar element. Of course, improvised elements such as stacks of drawers, tables or radiators should not be used. If the stairs are fixed, any damage observed on them will be reported, and the perfect state of order and cleanliness will be maintained.
Regarding scaffolding and mobile work platforms, they must be mounted on level and resistant bases, used in the terms established by their manufacturer and maintained in order and clean conditions. Regarding lifting equipment, it must be checked that it is in good condition, that the load is distributed at the base of the basket, respecting the maximum recommended weight and that it should not be used when weather conditions are adverse.
Regarding falls at the same level, since falls and trips usually occur due to a lack of order and cleanliness, the maximum is to maintain good conditions of order and cleanliness in the workplace. Objects should not be left in transit areas, or in places that are not intended for this purpose. Spills and spills of liquids must be collected as quickly as possible, also signalling the existence of wet pavement. Broken materials and waste will be placed in the places specifically designated for this purpose.
In relation to the prevention of electrocutions, only electrical equipment that does not have defects in its protection, wiring, or connection plugs should be used. It must be disconnected by pulling the plug and not the cable and in the event of a breakdown, the maintenance manager must be informed immediately. The protection elements and possible safeguards that said equipment has must always be respected.
What precautions to take when using chemicals
There is a wide variety of cleaning products whose chemical composition represents a series of risks, derived from their handling, which can cause burns, splashes, splashes in the eyes and inhalation of corrosive and irritating vapours.
Regarding the risk derived from the use of chemical products, this information is included on the label and is expanded by the International Chemical Safety Sheet (ICFS).
Having the FISQ of the products used is mandatory in the cleaning sector. This allows the employer to establish safe work procedures and take measures to control and reduce risk. It also helps provide workers with information and data complementary to what is contained on the label. This form must be provided with the first delivery of a dangerous chemical product. It is made up of 16 sections that include the information available in accordance with the guidelines indicated in the regulations.
The most notable function of the Safety Data Sheet is to provide data that allows the identification of the product and the person responsible for its marketing. It also provides a telephone number where you can make emergency inquiries. The ICSC must report on the risks and dangers of the product regarding flammability, stability and reactivity, toxicity, possible injuries or damage due to inhalation, ingestion or dermal contact, first aid and ecotoxicity.
The importance of ergonomics in cleaning work
The main ergonomic problems in cleaning tasks arise from aspects such as posture, the repetitiveness of the task, the pace of work and the forces applied. General recommendations in this regard are to use both hands in cleaning tasks and to preferably perform curved and continuous movements rather than straight movements with sudden changes in direction. You should not tilt your spine excessively, trying to keep your body upright at all times, in this way, the weight of your body is correctly distributed and permanent deformities of the spine are avoided. It is not recommended to stay in the same position for too long and every hour it is advisable to perform gentle muscle stretching movements.
Regarding cargo handling, whenever possible, mechanical means must be used for transportation. If the load can only be handled by hand, the weight of the load will be determined and the appropriate measures will be taken depending on its shape and difficulty in gripping. The load must be approached so that its centre of gravity is as close as possible to the centre of gravity of the body, keeping the feet apart and one slightly in front of the other to achieve an adequate balance position. In this position you must hold the load tightly using the palms of your hands and fingers, keeping your arms close to your body so that it supports the weight. During the process, you should keep your back straight and your head slightly lowered, this will reduce the possibility of injury.
Of course, you have to bend your legs and bend your knees to lift loads, so that the bulk of the effort is done by the leg muscles and not the back muscles. You must avoid twisting your body with the load and if you have to turn, you must move your feet, keeping your trunk straight in front of the destination of the load.
What conclusions do we draw about PRL in cleaning?
The above would be the occupational risks in cleaning and the general preventive measures, which we can find in daily practice and in the technical literature on the matter. We could even continue delving into very specific cleaning tasks, such as vertical work. These are jobs that require great specialization on the part of the operators, with a large training and prior training component, since they can be carried out at great heights. One could also talk about the biological risks that the cleaning of certain places may pose, such as hospitals, faculties of health branches or health centres, among others. Due to the specificity of the topic, we will discuss these works in another monographic article.
What we wanted to make clear in this is that the occupational risks in cleaning, in the normal and daily tasks associated with it, are much more important and numerous than is generally believed.