The commercial cleaning sector is a dynamic and steadily growing industry that plays a vital role in maintaining hygiene and cleanliness in workplaces, educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and public spaces. With an estimated value of 74 billion USD by 2023 and an annual growth rate of 4.5 per cent, it reflects the increasing demand for professional cleaning services. Factors driving this growth include heightened awareness of hygiene due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stricter sanitation regulations, and businesses' desire to provide safe and inviting environments for employees and customers. This sector not only contributes to public health but also offers numerous job opportunities and business prospects.
A cleaner’s perpetual rendezvous with hazardous substances
Cleaners regularly handle hazardous substances as an integral part of their job, including cleaning fluids like floor cleaners, toilet cleaners, window cleaners, bleach, and polishes. To address this hazard, it is crucial for employers to provide comprehensive training on the proper use of cleaning chemicals, including safe handling, storage, and disposal. Additionally, workers should have access to personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, masks, and eye protection to minimise chemical exposure. Prior to being authorised to work with these materials, staff must undergo comprehensive training.
Wet and slippery surfaces
Cleaning workers often encounter wet and slippery surfaces while performing their duties. Slips, trips, and falls are among the leading causes of workplace injuries. These accidents can result in sprains, fractures, or more severe injuries. To prevent such incidents facilities must implement proper signage to warn of wet floors, use slip-resistant footwear, and establish strict cleaning protocols to ensure thorough drying of surfaces. Adequate lighting and clutter-free workspaces can also contribute to safer working conditions. Cleaning workers engage in repetitive tasks such as mopping, vacuuming, and scrubbing, which can lead to musculoskeletal injuries over time. Moreover, back strains, sprained wrists, and other repetitive strain injuries can be unbearable and affect a worker's long-term health. Employers should provide ergonomic equipment and training on proper body mechanics to mitigate these risks. While ergonomic cleaning tools can reduce the physical strain associated with cleaning tasks, regular breaks and job rotation can help prevent overuse injuries. Comprehensive training is a cornerstone of protecting cleaning workers. Employers should ensure that workers receive proper training on the safe use of chemicals, equipment, and cleaning techniques. Regular updates on safety protocols, including infection control measures, are essential to keep workers informed and prepared.
Dealing with burnout and stress
Cleaning workers often contend with more than just physical hazards. The nature of their job, which often involves tight schedules, high expectations for cleanliness, and occasional encounters with uncooperative individuals, can lead to significant mental stress. This stress can manifest in various ways, affecting their overall well-being and job satisfaction. Employers have a critical role to play in assisting cleaning workers in managing their mental stress while ensuring their continuous skill development through regular training. Employers should first create a supportive work environment. This includes recognising and appreciating the demanding nature of their work, fostering open communication channels, and providing avenues for workers to report any issues or conflicts. Offering stress management resources, such as counselling or wellness programs, can also be immensely beneficial. Moreover, employers should establish a structured training program at regular intervals. This training not only enhances the skills and efficiency of cleaning workers but also boosts their confidence and job satisfaction. It should cover a range of topics, including proper use of cleaning chemicals, safe handling of equipment, and updated health and safety protocols.
The occupational safety and health of cleaning workers are key to their well-being and the overall cleanliness and hygiene of our communities. Employers must recognise the diverse hazards that cleaning workers face and take proactive measures to protect them. These unsung heroes deserve nothing less than our commitment to their health and safety.
About the author:
Cameron Mehrabanpour is the Head of Estates and Facilities at Heriot-Watt University, Dubai.