I hate news that talks about death. I especially hate it when it could be avoided. Case in point was the death of a restaurant worker last week in Burlington, MA. A 32-year-old man lost his life and 14 others were affected by the incident. The cause of the accident was mixing of cleaning chemicals.
According to reports, an employee was cleaning the floor of the restaurant and used two different products. One was a bleach-based product, the second an acid cleaner. Unfortunately, when you mix these two chemicals together it causes a serious chemical reaction. When bleach is mixed with any acid, it releases highly toxic chlorine gas. The acrid fumes of chlorine gas are capable of can destroying lung tissue and can cause the lungs to fill with fluid. The end result in essence is death caused by drowning.
Long story short, NO acid must ever be mixed with chlorine bleach. This includes acidic drain cleaners, rust removers and even vinegar (acetic acid).
Back in 2011, I coined the term “Custodial Chemists”. The Custodial Chemist is a group of people that believe that their collective years as professional cleaners make them far more knowledgeable then formulating chemists who have years of higher education and develop the products the Custodial Chemists use. The Custodial Chemist is someone who mixes products together in the belief they are making a better product (or simplifying their job). Why use a degreaser or glass cleaner followed by a disinfectant when you can mix them together and create a degreaser-disinfectant or the best disinfectant glass cleaner on the market.
The situation that lead to this happening was likely due to the fact that the employee (a Custodial Chemist) did not know or understand that bleach and acids should never be mixed and what the resulting consequences could be.
Employers are required by law to provide training on the use of cleaning and other chemicals PRIOR to their use because chemicals pose such a wide range of health and safety hazards. OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) is designed to ensure that information about these hazards and associated protective measures is communicated to workers. Under OSHA’s standard, the required training should include:
- Health and physical hazards of the cleaning chemicals
- Proper handling, use and storage of all cleaning chemicals being used, including dilution procedures when a cleaning product must be diluted before use
- Proper procedures to follow when a spill occurs
- Personal protective equipment required for using the cleaning product, such as gloves, safety goggles and respirators
- How to obtain and use hazard information, including an explanation of product labels and SDSs
This is an unfortunate accident that left a 3-month old baby boy without his dad. As employers, it is our duty to ensure our employees are kept safe and have the appropriate training to do their jobs safely. As employees, it is our duty to ask questions, assume we do not know everything and work in a manner that is going to keep us safe.