Occupational Hazards: A Deep Dive Into The Health Concerns Of Janitorial Staff

Many occupations involve workers being exposed to hazards, and cleaning is no different. While the role may seem quite safe compared to firefighters or police officers, it still poses certain risks that could cause a whole host of workplace injuries. According to Oxford Academic, the annual rate of injury for cleaners was found to be 32%, which is 2-3 times higher than all other healthcareworkers. On top of this, 62% of incidents resulted in time lost from work, lowering the overall productivity of cleaning staff.

Safe to say, injuries and health concerns are not only a daunting problem for workers who are seeking a career in the industry, but also cleaning companies and their clients who will face unexpected absences and lapses in cleaning coverage. As a result, all parties involved will benefit from making the cleaning process as safe and healthy as possible for their staff.

In our latest article, we’ll take a look at some of the occupational hazards that cleaners face, and how these could be tackled in various environments. We’ll explore how Vanguard Cleaning is dedicated to the health and safety of our cleaners, and outline the processes we put in place to ensure this comes to fruition.


1. Slips & Trips

One of the most common cleaner injuries is a slip, trip, or fall. As outlined by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), slips and trips are responsible for a third of all major reported injuries, which equates to over £500 million lost in productivity every year. Many of these accidents are caused by absent-mindedness, or by people not taking the risks seriously, and often result in fractures, broken bones, and even fatalities.

In the cleaning industry, there are no shortage of fall risks. Wet floors, whether caused by a spillage or simply by mopping, are slippery and can easily bring someone to the ground and cause injury. Combine this with a flight of stairs or a fall from height, and the severity of a slip can become extremely serious. A similar threat is posed by dangling wires or cords, which are often connected to vacuums or electrical cleaning appliances. Poor cable management might cause someone to trip over, causing substantial injury.

Minimising these threats is about best practice. Spillages should be cleaned as quickly as possible, and yellow wet floor signs put out to warn those who may cross the wet area. Cleaners should also take care to avoid using too much cleaning product, as this will make the floor unnecessarily slippery, increasing risk levels. Proper footwear (slip-resistant and improved grip) will also help prevent accidents.

As for wires and cords, good cable management is about communication and awareness. Don’t have wires crossing doors or entryways, make sure the area is well-lit to increase the visibility of any cords, and warn other staff or visitors when they enter the area. Finally, avoid stretching the wire too much – it should be loose on the floor instead of taut, which makes it easier to step over.


2. Hazardous Chemicals

Naturally, cleaning staff will utilise and handle a wide range of different chemical products on a daily basis. These might include bleach, disinfectant, surface cleaner, sanitiser, polish, detergent, descaler, and various other products. Many of these products are hazardous, and mishandling them can have severe consequences – from causing irritation to your eyes or skin, to serious damage to your organs if swallowed or inhaled.

Accidental spills are an obvious threat, especially if the product comes into contact with hands or exposed skin. As for swallowing or inhaling chemicals, while it may seem easy to avoid, all it takes is a product falling from a high up shelf to result in chemicals getting in someone’s mouth or nose. Serious incidents like these are more common than many might think, with major injuries accounting for 30% to 43% of all chemical trauma.

In addition, accidentally mixing chemical products might cause a chemical reaction and release harmful gases into the air. This could occur as easily as forgetting to wash a container or surface between applying different chemicals. Depending on the type and severity of products used, hazardous gas could damage your lungs, increase your likelihood of developing cancer, or even prove fatal. Even if such gases are not immediately harmful, prolonged exposure might cause long term damage.

Handling hazardous chemicals safely is of great importance. Wearing the proper PPE for certain tasks (such as changing containers or pouring products) will do much to reduce exposure – gloves, eye protection, and face masks are all essential gear. Further to this, make sure to store chemicals in the right heat and light conditions, and ensure they can be safely handled by staff. Always clean containers and surfaces between use to prevent accidentally mixing products.

Ventilation is also important, whether a harmful gas is present or not. Open nearby windows and ensure airflow systems are turned on to minimise exposure to chemicals in the air.


3. Physical Injuries/Strain

As a highly active role, cleaners will face a number of physical challenges in their day-to-day activity. Musculoskeletal disorders, which affect your joints, bones, and muscles, are the most common injury reported by cleaners. Such ailments are typically caused by strain and overuse, which occurs during manual work like bending down and lifting heavy items. Cleaners must tend to plenty of hard-to-reach places and carry around bulky cleaning equipment, meaning the risk of developing these disorders is inevitable.

Beyond everyday strain, other physical health risks are also of concern for cleaners. Working with electric-powered equipment like vacuums or steam cleaners, as well as tending to electricals like desktops, raises the potential for electrocution. A shock could be caused by touching damaged or exposed wiring, or stepping into a spillage near a plug or wiring, so while the risk may be minor, it’s important for workers to be on the lookout for electrical dangers.

Moreover, in environments with sharp surfaces or plenty of breakables like glass, there’s an ever-present risk that a cleaner could accidentally cut or graze themselves. Most incidents will be minor, but it’s useful to have a first aid kit on hand, and procedures in place to contact medical services in the event of an emergency.

While physical strain and injuries can be problematic, there are ways to mitigate these risks for cleaners. Regular breaks are important to prevent muscle fatigue, and welfare facilities such as staff rooms and toilets will help reduce the risk of continued strain. This will not only help rest the body, but also the mind, allowing cleaners to stay alert to potential electrocution or breakage threats.


4. Lone Working

Many cleaners work without supervision, and attend their client’s premises either before or after normal operation hours. As a result, they often work alone and are therefore more vulnerable, especially if working at night.

According to People Safe, the three main risks for lone workers are as follows: people risks (such as an aggressive individual), environmental risks (such as a dangerous work environment), and task risks (such as handling heavy machinery). Should any one of these risks cause something to happen, such as an accident, a lockout, or a criminal breaking in, there may be no one around to assist, which could result in some unfortunate consequences.

Additionally, working alone can be detrimental to your mental health. The lack of human contact could be a real burden for some people, leading to spikes in depression, anxiety, and paranoia. On the other hand, if cleaners are not equipped with the right utilities or training, or are being asked for too much in too short a time, it can become stressful to complete everything on-time.

For these reasons, it’s important for management to regularly check in with cleaners and ensure they feel supported. This might take the form of on-site visits to address any recurring problems, or regular text updates to ensure the cleaner is progressing through their shift without issue.


5. Biohazards

In some cleaning environments, there may be specific biohazards that pose a unique threat to cleaners. For example, exposure to harmful pathogens or mould, either in the air or by touch, could lead to repeat illness. Hand washing and improved ventilation will be central to improving this problem, and while cleaners will always face that risk of infection, it can be minimised greatly by good hygiene practice.

In certain buildings like hospitals or clinics, there may be bodily fluids such as blood, urine, or vomit that have the additional risk of transmitting a bloodborne virus. In these cases, much greater care is needed to prevent accidental transmission, such as using proper PPE, avoiding direct contact, and ensuring any cuts are covered by plasters.


How Do Vanguard Keep Their Cleaners Safe?

Hazards will always be a part of a cleaner’s job, but how these risks are assessed and minimised will make all the difference in the likelihood of injury or illness.

Vanguard Cleaning are experts in our field, and with over 22 years of experience, we have refined our health and safety procedures to ensure all our remote workers remain safe. In addition to a general business risk assessment that gets regularly updated, we do site-level risk assessments for every new facility which helps us identify any and all health threats that our cleaners may face. We are fully HSE-compliant, implementing all the latest regulations and guidance to minimise risks.

As a People First company, we are committed to safeguarding our staff, and our training is a continuing process. From ongoing monthly refresher training – ‘Toolbox Talks’, which cover a range of health & safety topics – to regular feedback from clients, we ensure our cleaners are always operating at their safest. Here’s how we do it:


Slips, Trips & Falls – Every cleaner receives a 3-day practical training module delivered by an area manager upon their start date. This induction is comprehensive and covers key health and safety points as well as cleaning best practice.

Hazardous Chemicals – Vanguard’s cleaning products are assessed in compliance with COSHH regulations, and staff are trained to use these chemicals safely and effectively. For more hazardous tasks, we will provide all PPE required to keep our staff safe.

Physical Injuries/Strain – We train all staff in the proper use and handling of our equipment, and never to take more risk than needed. The vast majority of our workers also live close to their workplace, and with everything they need located on-site, there’s no reason for them to carry around heavy equipment.

Lone Working – Vanguard monitors our remote staff through a software called Ezitracker, which allows cleaners to log in and log out of their shifts. Should a cleaner fail to turn up or leave the site, we receive an alert which allows us to act if needed. Additionally, our area managers regularly visit sites to conduct audits, support our staff, and liaise with clients to resolve any outstanding issues.

Biohazards – Our training procedures are accredited by the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc), giving each and every cleaner the knowledge to safely clean and dispose of different types of biohazards.


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