In June of 1998 my opinion on the common practice of spraying chemicals (cleaners and disinfectants) was forever changed. I hope my story will change yours.
My facility had a visit from an OSHA Inspector in June of 1998. In the course of the inspection, the OSHA inspector mentioned to me about spray-triggers creating an atomized mist of the disinfectant that was being inhaled into the lungs of my staff. He asked me, “Are you aware that it is an occupational hazard for housekeepers to be breathing disinfectants or other cleaning chemicals into their lungs?” I replied, “Yes, I have read about that happening but it is a rather small population of housekeepers that have developed chronic lung diseases.” That’s when he pointed to the “FREE FROM RECOGNIZED HAZARDS that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees” in the General Duty Clause.
As I and my facility learned the hard way, the General Duty Clause states: “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” This particular OSHA Inspector interpreted this to include the use of disinfectants in particular when they are being sprayed.
When it comes to the use of cleaners and disinfectants we live in a cavalier world where “spray and walk away” is the standard mentality. We are inundated with commercial imagery of spraying chemicals to clean our kitchens, our bathrooms, our carpets and even our laundry. This widespread acceptance of spraying chemicals transitions to schools, office buildings and hospitals. It is commonplace in our homes so why be concerned about spraying at work? While I was aware of some research indicating that spraying chemicals could be a health concern, spraying is still very much an accepted practice in facilities across North American.
Many cleaning agents, including disinfectants, can cause mucosal membrane irritation leading to several respiratory symptoms including rhinitis, cough, and shortness of breath. Epidemiological studies have shown that housekeeping staff are at increased risk of asthma, chronic bronchitis, and other respiratory symptoms.
The end result of my story is that I got educated and the hospital paid a hefty fine. We no longer allow disinfectants or any cleaning chemicals in a bottle with a spray-trigger.
My new mentality towards the use of cleaners and disinfectants is that ANY chemical that states on the label or in the MSDS that “inhalation” is a primary route of entry should be dispensed or applied from a bucket or flip top bottle rather than a bottle with a spray-trigger attached to it. I no longer worry that my housekeepers are breathing something into their lungs that might turn out to be “Breath-taking”. Can you say the same?
J. Darrel Hicks, BA, REH, CHESP
Author of “Infection Prevention for Dummies”
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Darrel Hicks is the author of Wiley Publishing's "Infection Control For Dummies", and is nationally recognized as one of the top experts in infection control. Darrel is also the immediate Past President of the IEHA and is an active member in ASHES where he holds the designation of CHESP. Darrel started his career in the management of housekeeping services in 1981. He has worked in hospitals ranging in size from 20-500 beds, and knows what it takes to plan, set goals and provide guidance and consultation to the management team and department(s) staff. He has managed as many as 13 departments and 170 F.T.E.’s at one time in a 3-hospital system. In that healthcare system Darrel had to pioneer and discover ways to save money by cross training staff, job sharing, controlling overtime and putting a system of controls in place.