As we all head back to our workplaces over the coming weeks and months, increased cleaning and hygiene standards will be a standout feature. With hand sanitiser at every desk and cleaning throughout the day becoming the norm, ensuring a safe environment might be at the cost of a healthy one.
Unfortunately, the cleaning industry at large, heavily relies on harsh synthetic cleaning, sanitising and disinfectant chemicals for much of their work. The use of these sort of chemicals has led the cleaning industry to have one of the highest instances of workplace incident claims in Australia.
When combined with the application of alcohol-based hand sanitisers throughout the day, our bodies are being exposed to chemicals more than ever before. With one in five people being affected with chemical sensitivities, the risks of increased chemical exposure at work is a real concern.
The primary symptoms reported from exposure to cleaning chemicals include –
Itchy skin (contact dermatitis)
Asthma or triggering asthma attacks
All of these health issues can be associated to regular contact, use or environmental association with cleaning chemicals relating to their synthetic chemical makeup and concentration, fumes or fragrances and chemical residue left behind.
How to avoid harsh chemical at work
If you are concerned about the chemicals being used at your workplace, make sure you voice your concerns and find out if there are alternatives that provide a safer and importantly healthier environment for you and your team.
Material Safety Data sheets are a good place to start. All chemical products have MSDS and should be available at your workplace to read. These will tell you the ingredients, toxicology information, environmental impacts and safe handling requirements.
Fragrance sensitivity in particular affect almost a third of the population. Being aware of this fact is crucial to providing a healthy environment for your staff and customers. Cleaning chemicals often contain fragrances that are made up of synthetic and volatile chemical compounds and are known to trigger sensitivities ranging from headaches to respiratory problems. Make a point of ensuring your organisation is using cleaning products without any fragrance.
Find safer alternatives. There are many safe and effective alternatives the conventional chemicals that are used for cleaning and disinfection. See if your business is open to using alternatives.
For more information regarding chemical sensitivities we recommend reading the research paper titled: International prevalence of chemical sensitivities.
Steinemann, A. International prevalence of chemical sensitivity, co-prevalences with asthma and autism, and effects from fragranced consumer products. Air Qual Atmos Health 12, 519–527 (2019).