Each year about 6 out of every 100 professional custodians are injured by the chemicals they use to clean, sanitize, and disinfect. Burns to the eyes and skin are the most common injuries, followed closely by breathing toxic mists or vapours.
Many of these injuries are due to improper use of cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting products. For example, many chemicals used for cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting come in a concentrated form. To be used, they have to be correctly diluted with water:
- When diluting concentrated products unsafely, the user increases her exposure to the health hazards of the product. She is exposed by breathing the fumes of the concentrated product into her lungs or absorbing the liquid through her skin.
- If the wrong chemicals are mixed together, they can react to form a toxic gas and the health effects can be much worse. For example, when bleach is mixed with ammonia or quaternary ammonium compounds (found in some disinfectants), chloramine gas is created, which is highly toxic.
- If a chemical is too concentrated (the user doesn’t add the amount of water indicated on the product label), then the health effects of using that product are increased. They are increased by the person who is using the product. They are also increased for the people who occupy the indoor space where it is used, especially for children.
- It is important to follow dilution instructions carefully to avoid harm to the person doing the diluting, as well as to the children and staff in the building. Personal protective equipment such as gloves and goggles, when indicated on the product label, should be worn while working with concentrated chemicals. Better yet, avoid using products that require personal protective equipment!