It takes one employee an average of 15 minutes to clean a restroom with six toilets and three sinks, restocking supplies and emptying trash, according to the International Sanitary Supply Association’s 358 Cleaning Times. That single set of tasks costs housekeeping departments about $15 or less in wages and supplies. But if an employee violates a regulation dictating the safety of the work involved, those same 15 minutes can cost tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention potential injury to the employee.

If workers don’t follow regulations put forth by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other regulatory bodies — and properly document their actions — companies are subject to inspections, citations and fines, not to mention the lost work and workers’ compensation payout that could accompany an injury.

Because of the high cost associated with safety problems, it is important for housekeeping executives to know which statutes commonly are violated, and how to comply with the rules. An examination of OSHA’s inspection-records database found several statutes that cleaning professionals commonly violate. During the period between October 2000 through September 2001 (the most recent fiscal year for which records are available), there were 114 federal-level OSHA inspections of janitorial service providers that resulted in citations. These operators received 366 citations, and a total of $346,280.60 in fines. (Some of these cases still are in progress, so citations still could be amended or dropped.)

By far, the most commonly violated standard was hazard communication — 29CFR1910.1200 in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. Other frequently cited standards included safety requirements for scaffolding (29CFR1910.0028); personal protective equipment (29CFR1910.0132); bloodborne pathogens (29CFR1910.1030); and the control of hazardous energy, lockout/tagout (29CFR1910.0147).

By taking a closer look at these oft-cited standards, housekeeping executives pinpoint likely areas of concern and focus their effort toward streamlining the compliance process, reducing the potential for citations and keeping employees safe.

Communicating the Hazards
Cleaners use a tremendous variety of chemicals in their day-to-day operations. Floor finish, bowl cleaner, grout restorer — the list is nearly endless. OSHA’s hazard-communication statute, often called “hazcom,” requires managers to assess the potential dangers of their chemicals, and pass that information on to employees in the form of training, material safety data sheets (MSDS) and labeling of primary and secondary containers.

In FY2001, cleaning professionals were cited 82 times for hazcom violations in 13 separate inspections and received $16,945 in fines.

Because cleaners use more chemicals during their workday than many other occupations, janitorial providers have a disproportionate share of hazcom responsibilities, and their potential for violation is elevated, says an OSHA official.

The majority of these citations could be considered “paperwork” violations — failing to have a written plan, or failing to have readily accessible MSDS. This doesn’t mean cleaners didn’t have hazcom plans or MSDS; it could mean managers didn’t write the plan down, or left the book in the wrong place.

That’s because without documentation, OSHA has no way of knowing that compliance efforts took place, and the agency will assume they didn’t, explains Curtis Chambers, CSP, founder of Metro Safety Consultants, an Arlington, Texas-based training firm.

Another common violation is failure to provide hazcom instruction. However, this also may be due to problems with paperwork, says Robert Stepp, CIH/CSP/REHS, with CIH Services Inc. in Napa, Calif. Trainers must inform workers of the potential job hazards, how to protect themselves and how to label secondary containers and look up MSDS information. Stepp advises employers to capture signatures of workers and trainers after training, and keep copies of handouts on file.

Look! Up In The Sky!
Safety requirements for scaffolding was the second-most-cited standard for cleaners, with 27 citations in 13 inspections. Fines in this category averaged $673.22 per citation.

The safety-requirement statute outlines strict guidelines for scaffolding, including weight loads, safety belts and access ladders.

Too often, housekeepers need scaffolding only occasionally, and then only for a quick task such as changing a light bulb or dusting a high ledge, so instead of erecting a proper structure, they look for the quickest and easiest solution, says the OSHA official.

“They use jerry-rigged equipment — two ladders with a board stretched across, or a staging platform with no guard rail,” he says.

Complying with this standard is a matter of ensuring employees have proper access to scaffolding when necessary — and that they use it, even when unsupervised. Proper training should detail where the equipment is located, how to assemble it properly and what potential harm results if employees don’t follow the instruction.

For Your Protection
Personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves, goggles and footwear, is the basis for several OSHA statutes. To comply with PPE rules, employers must determine which equipment is necessary, and when it should be used. They also must provide it to their workers and train employees in its use. Cleaning providers received 25 citation in 19 inspections for general PPE problems in FY2001, resulting in $12,160.50 in fines.

Specific PPE violations were about divided for failure to produce a written assessment and for failure to provide PPE at all.

Again, Stepp advises employers to document everything, and keep PPE records in individual employment files as well as in safety logs.

In addition, several other statutes cover specific types of PPE. Respiratory-protection rules, for instance, insist workers be provided with properly fit respirators and other devices when they will be exposed to certain chemicals — for instance, some floor finishes and restoration products. (Check MSDS information for guidance.) Eye and face protection, such as goggles or hoods, as well was hand protection such as gloves, are covered in other statutes, and are necessary when janitors use chemicals that could harm their skin or could splash into their faces.

“PPE is tied in with hazcom,” says the OSHA official. “If there’s no hazcom training, employees don’t know what the hazards are or what to do about them.”

Needle Sticks and Blood Spills
All janitors come across chemicals and the resultant PPE, and most even encounter scaffolding. But blood?

Bloodborne-pathogen problems accounted for $8,200 in fines and 21 citations over nine inspections last year. All employees who reasonably could be expected to encounter blood (including blood-soaked garments or needles) or other potentially infectious material (OPIM) in their normal job duties are covered by the statute, which includes exposure-control training, prevention and Hepatitis B vaccination. Employees can refuse the vaccination for any reason, but they must sign a waiver, which must be included in their files.

Cleaners in medical facilities are the most likely to come across blood and OPIM. Because of this, all janitors in medical facilities should be completely trained on BBP procedures, recommends Clyde Leischner, maintenance and safety director at Holy Rosary Health Center in Miles City, Mont.

“They all have that potential on their shift,” he explains. “They could be the ones called to clean up an infectious spill.”

In other buildings, training most janitors on what to do if they see a blood spill and how to avoid a needle stick in the trash should suffice; however, most housekeeping departments still should have at least one fully trained staff member.

One important thing all cleaners should watch out for is the potential for exposure by needles (such as those used for insulin) discarded in restroom and office trash cans.

“We get a lot of reports of people getting stuck by needles in a trash bag,” says the OSHA official.

Adding sharps-disposal containers in restrooms can help mitigate, but not eliminate, that risk. Also, employees should be taught to hold trash away from their bodies to avoid a potential stick.

If an employee is exposed to blood or OPIM for any reason, it must be reported. The BBP statute also requires exposed employees be given access to medical services, including HIV and hepatitis screenings, and medication if necessary.

Electrical Problems
Most industrial devices are subject to lockout/tagout (LOTO), or the “control of hazardous energy.” This means manufacturing equipment and similar devices must be shut down and physically locked or tagged to indicate the energy has been discharged and that the machine is safe to service, clean or even work near.

Cleaners were cited 19 times in seven inspections for violating LOTO statutes. And the consequences for not complying can be severe — one company was fined $56,000 for a “willful” violation of LOTO for not affixing a lock tag to a piece of machinery. Willful means the company knew, or should have known, that failure to comply could result in death or serious injury. In this incident, a man cleaning a mixing machine lost his arm when the device started up.

Janitors who clean in the vicinity of industrial equipment should be trained to recognize locks and tags, and should know that if there isn’t one on a machine that needs to be cleaned or wiped down, the machine should be left alone.

“I was involved with a janitorial staff fatality,” Chambers says. “The factory staff was trained in lockout/tagout, but the janitors weren’t. At the end of the week, a janitor wiped down the machines, and got killed because one of them was still running.”

Other Advice
Safety professionals have some tips for helping your facility comply with OSHA and other health and safety standards:

  • Make sure janitors stay alert for health and safety problems throughout the building.

    “Cleaners are my eyes and ears,” says Scott Smith, risk manager for Mendota Mental Health Center, Madison, Wis. “They’re in every room of the facility, every day. If they see anything unusual, they call me directly.”

    He recommends janitors and other front-line employees have a direct way of reaching someone who can address a safety problem. That way, it can be taken care of immediately, without passing through a massive chain of command.

  • If you hire a contractor, make sure you and that company are aware of compliance requirements. In many cases, a company can be held jointly liable for the actions of its contractors. Stepp recommends qualifying contractors during the bid process by asking detailed questions about their safety and compliance training and programs. Building employees should learn about chemicals used by contract janitors (at the very least, where MSDS are kept and what to do if there’s a spill) and vice versa.

  • If your location has fewer than 250 employees, and your company has fewer than 500, you may qualify for OSHA’s consultation program. In that, a consultant from OSHA will visit your facility and look for potential problems. You cannot be cited during the consultation for problems found; however, if you refuse to correct serious violations, you will be referred for an inspection.

Contact your local OSHA office, for more information on workplace safety requirements.

Compliance Processes
What to expect if you’re inspected

Having an OSHA inspector show up on your doorstep can be an unnerving experience, but there are certain rules they must follow, and certain rights they must allow you.

If your company is targeted for an inspection, OSHA personnel will come in and hold an opening conference detailing the scope of the visit. During this conference, check their credentials and make sure you know your rights.

OSHA inspectors are required to state why they’re there (for instance, because of a complaint or an accident), and they’re only allowed to search areas and materials related to that reason, says consultant Curtis Chambers. However, if the inspector spots something amiss in plain site, he can then investigate further; for instance, if the inspector is investigating a PPE complaint, but sees an improper scaffolding in the lobby, he can write additional citations. To avoid this, Chambers suggests paying attention to the scope of the inspection, and making sure the inspector doesn’t have a lot of extra access.

While Curtis doesn’t suggest companies take extreme measures to avoid additional exposure, he does recommend keeping inspectors on task, and restricting their movements to areas of record on the complaint or warrant.

“You do have the right to say no to extra requests,” Chambers says.
After the inspection, the investigator may interview employees. Workers have the right to do it in private, but they also can request their supervisor or safety director be present. OSHA inspectors can’t insist on interviewing employees alone without their consent, Chambers adds.

If the investigation results in a citation, you have 15 days to register a complaint before the citation and fees become final. You can request a informal conference with an OSHA area director to discuss the matter, after which they may lower the fee or eliminate some citations. Or, you can contest the citation in writing and take it through a hearing, review commission or the court system.

Once violations are finalized, be sure to bring your facility up to compliance, or you could be subject to additional fines.

A Note About Methodology
OSHA’s inspection-records database is searchable by industry, not by occupation. The statistics shown are for federal-level inspections of businesses classified under Standard Industrial Code (SIC) #7349 — Building Cleaning And Maintenance Services, Not Elsewhere Classified. This does not include inspections by state-level OSHA agencies or equivalents, nor does it include inspections of state-funded facilities governed by bodies other than OSHA.