The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way people look at and think about those staff members who perform cleaning duties. In the past this was something that happened ‘behind the scenes’ and without anyone giving it a second thought. But now, understandably, there is a much bigger emphasis on this critically important function.
Emma Corder, Managing Director of industrial cleaning products manufacturer Industroclean says, “an increased focus and demand for cleanliness and hygiene presents huge growth opportunities for the cleaning industry”. In South Africa the industry contributed 0.8% to GDP in Q3 2019 and globally it is expected to grow at 6.2% to reach $74,299 million by 2022.
The health and safety of South African workers, including contract cleaners are protected through the Occupational Heal and Safety (OSH) Act of 1993. The Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases (COID) Act (Act No. 130 of 1993) and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (Act No. 75 of 1997 are other legislation with aspects of health and safety.
With the increased demand for effective cleaning products and more frequent cleaning schedules, cleaning staff face more health and safety risks more often while performing their duties. Protecting the workforce requires much more than ensuring they are provided with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) especially with the added risk of Covid-19. But a mask alone is not enough; the onus rests on employers to familiarise themselves with the OSH Act requirements and to meet these regulations.
According to Section 14 of the OHS Act employees must be aware of their five health and safety responsibilities, i.e. they must: 1) protect themselves and colleagues from workplace hazards; 2) comply with legislation that their employers are obliged to observe; 3) observe workplace safety rules; 4) report unsafe working conditions to their employers or safety representatives; and 5) immediately report injuries to their employers or safety representatives.
A legal obligation under the OHS Act is for employers to provide health and safety training to their employees. “A lack of training puts cleaning staff at risk. It might very well be that a perception exists that cleaning requires no special education or experience so workers should just show up and do satisfactory work. Cleaners work with heavy equipment and toxic chemicals and without proper training, staff as well as their colleagues and clients could be exposed to harm,” says Corder.
Some of the topics all cleaners should be trained on include; the proper handling and dilution of hazardous chemicals, how to perform cleaning and disinfection tasks safely including sanitising of machines and equipment and how to manage, dump and dispose of wastewater.
The leading cause of workplace injuries is overexertion, most commonly back injuries, strained shoulders and repetitive strain injuries. Cleaning staff especially are at risk as they are exposed to repetitive bending, sustained forward and overhead reaching, the need to apply sustained or repetitive force and are required to push/pull heavy equipment and trolleys.
Professional cleaning is hard work and with added strict cleaning standards it is getting more complex. To ensure cleaners are able to achieve all of their KPIs, the recommendation is that employers make sure that they have the tools they need to do the job.
Investing in autonomous cleaning solutions might be considered too expensive but a floor scrubber can clean hard floors in lobbies, corridors, and other public areas enabling cleaning staff to spend more time in spaces that require a human touch without strain on the body.
“Most of the products we supply place an emphasis on ergonomics in their equipment and machinery designs, a differentiator that is often overlooked when procuring cleaning equipment,” added Corder. Long-handled equipment eliminates bending, awkward postures and sustained reaching. Machines such as ride-on scrubbers allow for easy handling and high maneuverability allows cleaning in congested areas.
Providing staff with the right tools to do their job is safer and more efficient for the cleaner to use and leads to better productivity and less injuries.