According to data from Safe Work Australia, the work of a cleaner can be more hazardous than construction work.
Data shows the average rate of workplace injury for building cleaning is 11.4 per cent, compared to 8.9 per cent for construction. So, what are the major hazards in the cleaning industry?
Work which involves lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling can lead to soft tissue injuries of the back, shoulders and upper body. These types of injuries can happen as a “one-off” but are more likely to occur over time.
Although soft-tissue injuries should resolve completely with the right treatment, they account for many workers compensation claims and are often mis-managed by medical professionals, resulting in time off work rather than recovery at work.
Referral to an occupational rehabilitation provider should be made as soon as the worker reports the injury so that the right treatment plan can be put in place.
Exposure to chemicals, which are widely used in the cleaning industry can result in ill health.
The working environment
Slippery floors, uneven surfaces, stairs and steps all present trip and slip hazards. Factors such as noise, lighting, temperature, ventilation, accessibility also need to be evaluated for their risk.
Skin penetration injuries
Cleaners can sustain injuries from broken glass, discarded sharp objects and needles. Wounds which break the skin leave the person open to infection. As a result of a skin penetration injury, a worker could be exposed to serious infections such Hepatitis B and HIV.
Poorly maintained electrical equipment can expose workers to the risk of shock, burns, or fatal injury. It’s important to regularly maintain equipment to ensure it’s in good working order.
As in any workplace, safety is everybody’s business. Every employee has a responsibility to report hazards and they should expect their concerns to be treated seriously.
Risk management should be incorporated as an integral part of your standard operating procedures, ensuring all hazards are identified, assessed, controlled, and modified as necessary to maintain safe working activities.
A risk assessment of the workplace should be conducted to ensure that proper procedures are in place to protect the safety of employees. Here are five tips to manage employee risk.
1. Identify the hazards
Hazards are anything that can cause physical harm or illness to your employees. Identify all the hazards in the activities undertaken.
All workplace information related to these things should be reviewed: workplace reports, production design, incident reports, etc.
Common hazards include the following:
- Slips trips and falls due to floor surfaces, cables, etc
- Excessive sound levels
- Falls from height
- Potential dangers of using equipment
2. Evaluate the hazards and decide on precautions
Identify who can be harmed and how the hazard can harm them. Determine the hazard’s risk rating by evaluating the likelihood and severity of the hazard.
- Likelihood – A high, medium, or low probability that the hazard will cause injury or illness.
- Severity – A major, moderate, or minor estimate of how serious the injury or illness could be.
As the current COVID-19 pandemic has shown us hazard likelihood and severity can change over time and hazard mitigation measures may need to be adjusted accordingly.
3. Control of hazards
It is the duty of the employer to control hazards and remove them wherever possible. If it is not possible to remove them, controls and equipment should be put in place to mitigate the risks to all parties involved.
There are three types of controls that can be implemented:
- Engineering controlsare physically controlled hazards such as the handling procedures, regulations, etc.
- Administrative controlsare procedures, worker training, supervision and other preventative measures.
- Personal protective equipmentis equipment used to prevent harm of employees such as protective eyewear, etc.
4. Implement controls
It is the duty of the employer to ensure that administrative controls are followed, and that the proper equipment is provided and that employees are properly trained to use it.
5. Review your risk assessment and update if necessary
When hazards are identified during the risk assessment process, a solution plan must be put in place.
You cannot afford to be slack with safety. The cost of workplace injury is more than just the obvious cost of workers compensation.
Hidden costs include sickness absence, presenteeism, low employee morale and staff turnover.
There are some simple things you can do to mitigate risk with your workforce.
- Educate your staff about safety and your procedures
- Prioritise mental wellbeing of your staff
- Operate with openness and transparency
- Lead by example
When an admired supervisor is observed to be committed to workplace safety through their own actions, employees are also likely prioritise workplace safety. Ultimately to impact the safety climate at your workplace you need to decide to walk the walk.
Libby Roberts is founder and director of WRM and LeapForward. Libby is VP of the NSW Board of the Australian Rehabilitation Providers Association and is on the board of the Pain Management Research Institute.
This article was first published in the September/October issue of INCLEAN magazine
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