If a chemical is hazardous, it should have warning symbol printed on the containers. However, if there is no label, it does not automatically mean there is no risk. Even relatively mild chemicals could be dangerous if used incorrectly.
The risk from working with hazardous chemicals can be reduced through some simple precautionary measures:
- Eliminating or substituting the chemicals with safer ones
- Ensuring good ventilationWashing hands after use
- Wearing appropriate personal protective equipment
- Provision for training
- Using safe and accurate dilution methods.
Acids and Alkalis
Ever suffered from acidity? Chances are that you ate something which ‘disagreed’ with you. Your body produces acid to digest the food you eat and this is very powerful indeed. In fact, it is hydrochloric acid, strong enough to cause very severe burns if your skin comes in contact with it. Fortunately for us, our stomachs also produce a alkali substance, which can counteract the effects of the acid.
Similarly the strengths of acids and alkalis used in chemicals are measured through its pH levels. Remember that a strong alkali such as caustic soda can burn just as severely as a strong acid. pH values should be shown on the labels or data sheets of chemicals.
Some companies identify acid chemicals with red labels, alkalis with blue labels and neutral with green labels. Acids are mostly used for removal of metal stains such as:
- Hard water & lime scale deposits in WC pans
- Hard water deposits around taps and baths De-scaler (strong to medium acid with pH 2-3/4-5)
- Tarnish on silver, copper & brass articles. Vinegar, lemon juice, tamarind-salt mixture can all be used to remove tarnish from metals or in some cases mild water stains. However, care should be taken to wash off the acid quickly as it might damage the glaze.
Akalis are grease emulsifiers and are commonly used for the following:
- Clearing of blocked drains
- Cleaning of ovens and other large industrial equipment
- Caustic soda (pH 11-12) being a degreasers is the most commonly used alkali in liquid or powered form.
Warning: Never mix strong acid and alkaline substances. This can result in violent chemical reaction that leaves salts and water as residue but gives out heat, being an exothermic reaction. It could also result in explosion of the container in some cases. Special precautions should be taken to avoid such circumstances.
Remember: Strong chemicals can damage floor surfaces. Concentrated solutions of acid and alkali may give off toxic or corrosive fumes. Spray application produces a mist which may also be toxic or corrosive to the skin, eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Do not breathe mists.
Dilutions should be in correct form. It will help you to use chemicals more effectively, safely and cost-effectively. Measures used must be simple, direct and immediately identifiable.
Some of the chemical dilutions are in the ratio of 1:10ml. If we think that we can put 20ml instead of 10ml for better result, it would be wrong. It could even leave streaks of chemicals on the surface.
Sometimes certain chemicals have different results to different dilutions. For example, if a floor stripper is diluted with hot water it gives different result than when
mixed with cold water. Similarly, different products have different result specifications.
Warning: Never add water to acidic chemicals, always add acid to water.
Material Safety Data Sheets
MSDS are available for all chemicals used in contract cleaning. These data sheets list all the properties of the chemicals, including information on the type of hazards it presents.
- pH level (acid or alkali)
- Dangers of improper use
- Potential damage (if any) to eyes, skin, lungs
- First Aid procedures
- Notes for doctors
If you use very acidic (de-scalers) or very alkaline (caustic soda) chemicals, then get a copy of the MSDS from your supervisor and read it carefully.
Working with Water
Remember one is up to 600 times more likely to die from an electric shock when one’s hands are wet. Use the minimum amount to wash floors. Simple trips and slips on wet floors are among the most common causes of injuries in contract cleaning.
An accident is an unplanned occurrence that may result in damage to people, property, equipment or the environment. When accidents are reported promptly, injured employees, students and visitors receive timely medical care and unsafe conditions receive prompt corrective action.
The Risk Management and Safety office conducts incident analysis to identify accident trends, determine the effectiveness of current safety programmes and prevent future accidents. Employees must follow the procedures.
Important: Report all accidents to the supervisor. If an injury or exposure occurs on-the-job, the injured employee’s supervisor must complete the First Report of injury or illness. Reports on hazards like missing manhole covers or chemical spills & accidents as vehicle collisions and potentially hazardous situations to the ‘Facilities Operations’ as quickly as possible. The office shall then contact other departments and outside agencies as deemed appropriate.
Preventing slips and falls
It is easy to prevent accidents caused by falls and trips. Employees should always follow good housekeeping practices and pay more attention to their environment to avoid slips and falls. In addition, employees should follow these guidelines:
- Turn on office lights. Ensure that passageways are adequately lit.
- Avoid horseplay.
- Avoid unnecessary haste. Do not run at work areas.
- Use ladders or step stools to reach high places. Never climb on a chair, drawer or shelf.
- Keep hallways and stairwells neat and free of obstacles.
- Remove items that may pose a potential slipping hazard.
- Clean up spills as soon as they occur.
- Never obstruct your view when walking.
- Do not wear clothing that is too long or shoes that have slippery heels or soles.
- Hold handrails when using stairs.
- Be careful when walking on wet surfaces or when entering a building while wearing wet shoes.
- Report uneven surfaces, such as loose or missing floor tiles, to facilities for repair.
- Arrange office furnishings in a manner that provides unobstructed areas for movement.
- Keep stairs, steps, flooring and carpets well maintained.
- Ensure that glass doors have some type of marking to keep people from walking through them.
- Clearly mark any difference in floor level that could cause an accident.
- Secure throw rugs and mats to prevent slipping hazards
- Do not place waste baskets or other objects in walkways.