Recognizing safety threats in the janitor’s closet

Accurate dilution imperative for highly concentrated chemicals
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
By Barbara Carss

Care should always be taken when handling chemicals. In the U.S., it’s estimated that six out of 100 custodial workers are injured on the job each year. Most of these injuries are to the eyes and skin, and often a result of using cleaning chemicals. Similar statistics apply to Canadian custodial workers.

Cleaning chemicals rely on powerful formulas to help loosen and remove soils and contaminants from all types of surfaces. When used properly, they are generally safe, and certified-green cleaning chemicals are usually even safer. When used improperly, problems can arise.

Extra care is necessary with green chemicals because they are typically highly concentrated. This helps reduce packaging and transportation needs, making them more sustainable, but it also means a small amount of the chemical can be extremely powerful.

Proper dilution is critical. Many facilities that have adopted environmentally preferable cleaning products now use auto-dispensing systems that automatically mix the chemicals with water.

This is highly recommended for all cleaning chemicals. Not only does it help ensure the products are diluted properly, it can help prevent the release of potentially harmful fumes, which is common when chemicals are mixed manually, and eliminate waste thus reducing costs.

Cleaning chemical safety programs, which help minimize accidents for both cleaning workers and all building users, start in the janitor’s closet. The first step is cataloging all the chemicals. That is particularly important when multiple facilities are run by different management teams so that facilities managers can keep comprehensive track of the kinds and quantities of chemicals used in their properties

Along with listing all chemicals used in a facility, the catalog should include the following:

  • Exactly what chemicals are stored in each janitor’s closet.
  • How many and what types of containers (for example., one-gallon, five-gallon) chemicals are stored in.
  • Whether potential storage hazard precautions are in place? For example, in most cases, cleaning chemicals should not be stored in direct sunlight and the closet should be kept at moderate room temperatures.
  • Whether there is proper ventilation and if it’s attached to the facility’s HVAC system. In most cases, ventilation of the janitor’s closet should not be connected to the facility’s HVAC system to help prevent any fumes from spreading throughout the facility.
  • Whether managers and custodial workers have been taught proper cleanup and disposal procedures in case of spills.

Make sure all chemicals are stored in their original containers and that material safety data sheets for all cleaning chemicals are readily available. Some managers colour-code shelves in the closet – for example, all products used to clean restrooms might have red markings on them and be stored on shelves labelled in red.

Keep track of the dates all cleaning chemicals were purchased and will expire, and remove chemicals that are no longer being used. This helps de-clutter janitors’ closets, which also helps promote safety.

In most cases, if a cleaning chemical has not been used in six months, managers and custodial workers should consider safely disposing of it. Any product not used in a year or more should be properly discarded. In such cases, the chemical formation may no longer work properly, making the potential for an accident all the greater.

Mike Sawchuk is vice-president and general manager of Enviro-Solutions, a manufacturer of green cleaning chemicals based in Peterborough, Ont.

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