Cleaning and hygiene services, as well as waste management, place workers at a higher than average risk of exposure to occupational health hazards. Workplace safety is of paramount importance and should be accompanied by regular occupational health medicals.
Cleaning, hygiene and recycling services are carried out in all sectors and workplaces, including hospitals, laboratories, offices, factories, schools, and waste sorting and processing facilities.
The nature of their work may bring cleaners into contact with chemicals and dangerous substances present in the products they use, as well as those present in the dust, soot and dirt of the places they clean.
These chemicals include acetone, formaldehyde and hydrochloric acid, which are known to cause, for example:
Irritation of the eyes and mucus membranes
Respiratory disorders such as asthma
Different types of cancers
In addition, cleaning staff are exposed to biological hazards such as bacteria, viruses and moulds, which they could inhale, absorb through the skin or even ingest accidentally.
Exposure to blood-borne pathogens are common for cleaners in the healthcare sector and puts them at risk of contracting, for example, hepatitis viruses. Those who clean public places can come into contact with animals such as birds and rodents and their excrement, which carries additional health risks.
Cleaning can also be physically demanding work and often necessitates working with awkward equipment in confined spaces that require odd postures such as bending over or backwards. This can be strenuous for workers’ bodies and lead to musculoskeletal disorders.
Physical strain can also be caused by the use of vibrating equipment and the presence of noise, whereas heat stress could occur if they work in hot or humid environments.
Workers in the recycling and waste management sector, especially sorters, are exposed to a great variety of health hazards too. These range from used hypodermic needles and diapers to the mercury and lead in thermometers, batteries and fluorescent lights.
Dust and airborne contaminants are common at waste and recycling facilities. They may contain micro-particles of plastics or glass, as well as toxic substances such as asbestos or silica. All of these are known respiratory irritants.
Like their cleaning counterparts, recycling and waste management workers are also exposed to physical stress from repetitive motions and awkward positions as they reach or stoop for hours at a time.
They often work at fast-moving conveyor belts with fixed widths and heights that are not ergonomical or have to do heavy manual handling of large bales, sacks or containers. This leads to injuries of the back, shoulder, arms, hands, fingers and knees.
We therefore recommend a full medical examination with biological monitoring and, depending on the individual risk profile, vaccinations against hepatitis B. Chest X-rays every 2 years for those exposed to airborne pollutants are also recommended.