How to Eliminate Risks Associated With Cleaning Chemicals

How to Eliminate Risks Associated with Cleaning Chemicals

By Les Miles

For companies, clients, and staff there are some interesting events happening globally which are likely to affect how we all clean in the future.  The changes will see some people become genuine early adopters and lead the way; others will be fashionable adopters and follow because they see the way the wind blows; and others will follow because they are forced to by legislation or market pressure.

So how does legislation affect how a company attempts to provide clean and safe spaces?  The answer in many instances is OH&S:  Occupational Health and Safety.


The guiding edict of all OH&S is eliminating riskwhen reasonable and practicable.  If risk cannot be practically eliminated, then measures must be adopted to minimise risk based on a hierarchy of control– these measures include:

  • Substitution – use something less risky to do the same job.
  • Engineering / Isolation –  physically build something to put the risk behind a barrier or isolate the risk
  • Process Management – If a risk is unavoidable, then processes must be implemented to manage it
  • PPE – Personal Protective Equipment must be provided and used with the three measures listed above

However PPE (e.g wearing gloves, goggles or respiratory protection) by itself is never considered an adequate approach to manage risk – it must be used in conjunction with at least one of the other measures listed.  The viewpoint of workplace authorities (the government bodies which drive legislative change, outline workplace standards and investigate harm in the workplace) the preference is to eliminate risk; which should make the need for PPE unnecessary.


A company which chooses to implement a limited risk management strategy based on the lower levels of the hierarchy of controls, where a realistic (reasonable and practical) option to eliminate the risk exists, is running a high risk of prosecution or civil action if an avoidable incident occurs.  When facing prosecution, ignorance of a viable option to address a risk is not considered a defense.  The research capacity, available today to all organizations, of the worldwide web means a defense based on ignorance of new cleaning developments would be limited at best.

With the above in mind, what are the interesting events which may impact in the contract cleaning arena?

1. There is the recognition by most people that cleaning chemicals are potentially harmful to staff, clients and the general public.  There have been numerous studies that reinforce this conclusion, and the vast majority of cleaning chemicals carry health or poison warnings, as required by law.   Here the risk to health and safety is recognized and communicated.

2. The likely implementation of a new legal requirement in the US may set a world-wide precedent:  All chemical ingredients in household cleaning fluids will be required to be listed.  A recent US study, which examined thirty different chemical cleaners used in US schools, identified airborne traces of 475 distinct chemicals (

While there was no mention of these nasties on any labeling, formaldehyde, benzene, and chloroform were all found.  The report acknowledges that “green” cleaners generally released fewer toxins, but that some still contained chemicals linked to cancer or asthma.

3. Increased awareness of the dangers associated with chemical exposure at legislative levels of government has lead to the development of new laws governing the sale of chemicals in some parts of the world.  The proposed “Safe Chemical Act” currently before the US Congress with reported support from the Obama administration will force manufacturers to prove their chemistry is safe prior to sale.

Consider a recent review of scientific literature investigating chemicals and radiation in our environment and our bodies.  It found that of the 80,000 or more synthetic chemicals in use today, more than 90% have never been tested for their effects on human health.  Scary.  Even scarier when you think about the chemicals that already have known bad effects. (


4. New technologies are becoming readily available which reduce the need for many cleaning chemicals.  In fact, many of the new technologies eliminate the need for most cleaning chemicals currently in daily use and are often more cost effective over the long term.

Some of the new technologies that can be considered to reduce or eliminate exposure to harmful chemicals in different areas include:


• Many options and sizes from a variety of manufacturers

• Floors, walls, detail


• General purpose and specific function cloths available

• Activated water increases effectiveness and productivity


Electrolysed water

• Ewater’ systems provide plumbed in and stand-alone systems

• Hard surfaces

• Sanitize

• On demand from the portable Activeion devices, for example

• Hard surfaces

• Carpet spotting

To summarize; the elimination, where reasonable and practical, of the OH&S risks posed by chemicals is the desired outcome (and the only legally responsible approach) for all workplaces using chemicals to clean.  There are significant risks present and universally recognized in the use of chemical cleaners.

Alternatives often do exist to those chemicals the area of routine cleaning; particularly when many of the options are more cost effective.  The defense of ‘reasonable and practical’ is quickly being lost with chemical based cleaning.

This article is courtesy of Activeion International Pty Ltd., Melbourne, Australia. Author Les Miles is director of the company.