Working as a cleaner can be bad for health if the right precautions aren’t taken, with constant exposure to cleaning chemicals and other substances having the potential to cause mild to serious health risks.

COSHH, which stands for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, are the regulations that require employers to take the necessary precautions to protect their employees from being exposed to hazardous substances while they are carrying out their work.

These hazardous substances can include cleaning products that contain dangerous chemicals or that let off toxic fumes or vapours.

Cleaning agents, which are commonly found in most workplaces and households, can be corrosive, toxic, and damaging to humans, and they might even contain chemicals that can cause asthma and skin allergies.

That’s why we’ve written a short guide outlining the basics of how to stay protected from chemical health risks when cleaning.

All chemicals should also come with a full technical chemical safety data sheet, as this is a requirement of REACH, the European body that controls the registration, evaluation, authorisation, and restriction of chemicals. These technical data sheets must provide information on chemical products, such as commercial cleaning products, that lets users make an accurate risk assessment.

How to protect employees against chemical health risks


Research potential health hazards

Discovering what potential health hazards could be in your cleaning products is the first step in identifying health risks, so we’d recommend you consult the COSHH site to do some research on what substances that you work with could be dangerous, and how.

Carry out a risk assessment

This involves thinking about the specific hazards that your workplace might present and then deciding what the steps you need to take to control them are. These steps will be unique to the particular conditions of your workplace.

Start by reading the labels of your cleaning chemicals. Chemical suppliers will adhere to HSE Chemical Classification laws, which will require them to put the names of all substances and necessary warnings about potential hazards on their products. Decide if you can replace any of these cleaning agents with less harmful or non-toxic cleaning products or consider how you can minimise the risks they present in the workplace.

Find out how cleaning products are most likely to come into contact with the person handling them. Do they give off toxic fumes or vapours? Is there a chance of the cleaning chemicals splashing onto the person handling them?

Think of what changes can be made to the workplace or work processes that will minimise the possible contact with the hazardous substances?

It is always advised that you try to use green cleaning products and stick to a green cleaning plan, to ensure both nontoxicity in the workplace and minimal environmental impact.

Provide control and protection measures

The findings from your risk assessment will give you guidance in providing the right PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) and the necessary janitorial supplies to keep your employees safe when performing their tasks.

PPE can take many forms, but generally, the most important elements involve covering up vulnerable parts of the body with items like respiratory protection, eye protection, and appropriate gloves for hand protection.

Make sure control and protection measures are used

Put the necessary procedures in place that will ensure managers and employees responsibly handle hazardous substances in the workplace. This might be literature, instructions and training.

Keep control measures in good working order

Put checks in place that will remind staff to check that janitorial equipment and PPE is cleaned after use and has no faults or damage that could compromise its effectiveness. It’s also important to make sure that all staff know how to report damage, or how to order replacement equipment so that supplies never run too low.

Provide information and training for employees

Give all employees the necessary training before they start handling hazardous substances and keep instructional material and checklists in an accessible folder on site. The more training employees have on protecting from chemical hazards, the less likely they are to be at risk in the workplace.

Plan for emergencies

In the case of an emergency, you’ll also need the right equipment in place to minimise the harm caused to an employee.

First aid kits should be kept in all workplaces and where chemicals are handled as a bare minimum, and additional emergency equipment such as eyewash first aid kit and spillage kits should be stocked where appropriate.