Are your business’ cleaning products putting employees’ health at risk?

Employee health and safety is a priority in so many aspects of your business; from labor policies, to illness prevention, to safety equipment, and more. One area you may be overlooking, however, are the cleaning products used at your facility. Of course, you’re thinking about regular cleaning and hygiene, but are you thinking about which chemicals are being used in that process?

In this article, we look at some of the concerns with commercial cleaning products that may be among those used in your facilities supplies.

There is a lack of awareness about cleaning products in the workplace.

A 2023 study found that 90% of workers who handle cleaning products at work could not recall one ingredient from a product that they use in their job. It seems fair to say that the average person probably doesn’t think too much about what chemicals are wiping down their desk, washroom, or other workspaces. However, your workspaces are probably being cleaned with a variety of products, some of which may contain ingredients you wouldn’t use in your own home.

Some risks to consider.

When it comes to cleaning chemicals there are a lot of risks, many of which are addressed in your region’s regulatory workplace safety training guidelines.

If we’re looking past flammability and explosion risks, it’s the less flashy risks to employee health that make certain products a concern. Long-term, repeated exposure to certain chemicals – through inhalation, skin absorption, or ingestion – can have unfortunate consequences, such as:

  • Lung, skin, eye, or mucous membrane damage.
  • Allergic reactions.
  • Asthmatic reactions.
  • Increased likelihood of cancer.

It’s not simply the ingredients of the product, but also how they’re being used. According to Cleaning & Maintenance Management, “the method by which the cleaning product is delivered can have a substantial effect on chemical exposure. For instance, aerosol sprays emit a large amount of small cleaning product droplets at high velocities, resulting in a much greater chemical inhalation exposure. Pump dispensers, in contrast, emit a smaller amount of larger droplets at a lower velocity.”

‘Green’ products aren’t necessarily risk-free.

Don’t fall for idealistic branding. It may be tempting to simply buy products touted as ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’ and accept that as due diligence. However, a recent study from the University of York found that these designations don’t always mean there’s no harm, especially when it comes to impacting air quality.

Particularly, the study found that some green cleaners emitted the same or even higher rates of harmful chemical compounds, due to “the fragrance ingredients of these products.”

So, what can you do?

Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution. To maintain hygiene standards, cleaning products are essential. However, there is a lot you can do to reduce the risks of adverse health effects on your employees:

  • Product research – select cleaning products carefully based on ingredients listings and research those ingredients, including reviewing its Safety Data Sheet (SDS). Speak with your vendor if you have questions for best practices.
  • Proper employee training and compliance with safety protocols – ensuring your employees are aware of best practices regarding every product they use or come in contact with is paramount, as well as enforcing the use of wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and proper storage and labelling of all products.
  • Proper ventilation – ensure any applicable products are used in well-ventilated areas to minimize inhalation of fumes. This may involve using exhaust fans or opening windows and doors. Monitoring air quality on site is essential to ensure your workplace is safe for employees.
  • Feedback mechanisms – implement a system for employees to report health concerns or adverse reactions related to cleaning products.

In conclusion…

Most people aren’t aware of what goes into their cleaning products or what risks they pose. However, in a business setting, this can potentially lead to your employee’s health being jeopardized. By taking the proper time to speak with your vendor and understand the products you are using, you are taking the best care of the people who work for you.