Creating an effective training program requires a clear understanding of best practices for chemical handling and storage, but also of the products themselves. Choosing products certified by a third-party is the best way to be confident that the chemicals have been appropriately tested for toxicity and performance.

“Choose the least toxic alternatives, and use all recommended protective gear such as gloves, eye protection and respiratory protection,” says Hicks.

Selecting the right product for the job at-hand is crucial when considering the wide variety of cleaning chemicals available. Using each option as it was intended is essential — especially for disinfectants.

“The label is the law,” says Solomon. “Read the label, look for the key terminologies and understand what type of microorganism you’re trying to eliminate to be sure the disinfectant is appropriate and intended for that specific use.”

Mixing chemicals presents the greatest room for error and danger. There have been cases of janitorial workers adding room deodorizer to disinfectants before mopping the floors to produce a more pleasant scent. Or, people sometimes mix together acids with bases or low pH with high pH products — mistakes that can produce toxic gases that can harm or kill people, says Heidi Wilcox, owner of WILCOX EVS Solutions, Haverhill, Massachusetts.

“This happened at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Burlington, Massachusetts, where the manager lost his life,” Wilcox says. “He was 32 years old, a newlywed and had a 3-month-old son. This never should have happened if there was corporate responsibility and training around all chemicals.”

Dilution mistakes can also put frontline workers at risk. Manually diluting a chemical with water rather than using an automatic dispensing system can cause problems. Very few people can accurately gauge a 1:32 or 1:128 dilution ratio using a gallon jug of chemical and water in a bucket. Also, cleaning workers who mistakenly believe that “more is better” may purposely violate labeled dilution rates.

Adding too much water to a chemical concentrate could deliver subpar cleaning results and eventually result in disinfectant-resistant organisms. Too little water can damage health (respiratory problems, skin irritation), indoor air quality, surfaces and also add unnecessary costs to the chemical budget. Using the proper personal protection equipment (PPE) is also key when handling chemicals.

“Whether it be mixing two chemicals together or improper dilution of water to chemical, cleaning is not the time to become a chemist,” says Bruce Heller, president of Cavalier Inc., a jan/san distributor in Norfolk, Virginia.

Once a chemical has been mixed or diluted, the new container must be labeled. Failing to do so is not only a violation of OSHA regulations, but it can result in the dangerous misuse of products. Similarly, it’s important to frequently check labels to look for expired chemicals.

Best practices for cleaning chemicals also include proper storage and disposal. This information is on the label or SDS, which must be available on-site to all employees. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) dictates that workers have a right to know what products they’re using, the potential hazards of those products and what protective measures are available to prevent adverse effects.

Finally, custodial workers must be educated on how to best use various chemicals. Specifically, proper training on contact or dwell times is essential.

“Read the label to validate that the surface has stayed wet with the chemical for the appropriate contact or dwell time,” says Solomon. “It may differ based on the microorganism you’re trying to kill.”

Dwell times are critical, especially during an outbreak or pandemic situation when cleaning crews are battling the highly infectious novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Likewise, the focus on high-touch surface areas is helpful, but technicians must be reminded of the need for comprehensive cleaning.

“That means having a streamlined process for cleaning, like a clockwise pattern so you ensure you get all the surfaces,” says Solomon. “We can’t solely focus on high-touch surface areas because there are many other areas where there is potential for transfer of infection. Cleaning shouldn’t be haphazard. You have to be intentional.”

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