The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that as many as 2.8 million people in the cleaning industry are exposed to dangerous cleaning chemicals each day. While OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (1910.1200) and Right to Know Act aims to protect workers, injuries continue to happen on a daily basis from chemical mishandling, which results in burns, eye injuries or the release of toxic fumes, which can cause damage to the lungs and nasal passages.

John Poole, Cleaning Industry Management Standard assessor and authorized OSHA outreach trainer, says a lot of organizations dismiss custodial work as presenting safety risks because of the stereotype associated with the job.

"Organizations think we're 'just janitors' and don't consider the hazards associated with the work," says Poole. "It doesn't matter what type of building you work in, whether you're cleaning a Class A office building, a hospital or a truck stop. When you clean, you are affecting the environment of that building and need to have the proper knowledge and training."

Poole says one of the biggest safety risks he sees is that few organizations have a HazComm program administrator in place. This can lead to a variety of issues and potential chemical-related injuries — and fines.

"When I conduct safety inspections, one of the first questions I ask is what the pictogram on the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) means," says Poole. "Oftentimes, the person can't tell me what the exclamation point means, or locate the prescribed personal protective equipment (PPE) for that SDS."

What this points to, says Poole, is the absence of training around chemical handling and procedures.

"It is the employer's responsibility to train and inform, not the employee," says Poole, "Whether or not you're on-boarding a new employee or providing ongoing training, you should always have the employee demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of your protocols. Empowering an employee with the responsibility of acting as your HazCom administrator can help make sure this happens."

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