Professional cleaning activities expose employees, clients and the public to a range of different health risks. If you employ or manage those who conduct cleaning, then legally you must perform a risk assessment for cleaning activities performed by your staff.
In this article, we outline the common risks that cleaners face, explain the responsibilities of employers and provide you with a guide on how to conduct a risk assessment for cleaning work.
The Legal Background
All employers and managers involved in the cleaning industry need to know how to conduct a risk assessment correctly. This is mandated by numerous pieces of UK health and safety legislation, the most important being:
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR)
- The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH)
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
The purpose of a risk assessment is to identify all possible health hazards in a workplace environment. The information collected by the risk assessment is then used to develop measures to either eliminate the risks completely or control them ‘so far as is reasonably practical.’
Failure to properly perform risk assessments can result in criminal charges being laid for breaching the above health and safety laws. These breaches can be penalised by unlimited fines or even imprisonment.
Who Can Conduct a Risk Assessment?
Risk assessments can be performed by the employer or a manager, supervisor, employee or a third-party contractor. The person conducting the risk assessment must be deemed to be competent to perform the risk assessment. A ‘competent person’ must have a sufficient level of experience, training or other qualities that allow them to perform their duties to a reasonable standard.
Although an employer can delegate the task of conducting a risk assessment, they must bear in mind that legally, the responsibility lies with them. This means that the employer is legally responsible for ensuring that it is carried out correctly and that all control measures are implemented properly.
How to Complete a Cleaning Risk Assessment for Cleaning
When conducting a risk assessment for cleaning duties, it’s advisable to follow five principal risk assessment steps. As defined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the five steps are:
Step One: Identify the Hazards
The hazards associated with cleaning work differ in relation to the type of work that is being done and the work environment itself. Cleaners can work in a wide variety of settings, including offices, factories, schools and hospitals.
Some common hazards include:
- Injuries from slips, trips and falls
- Manual handling injuries
- Shocks from electrical equipment
- Injuries from Industrial equipment or machinery
- Lone working
- Exposure to hazardous substances
Step Two: Determine Who Could Be Harmed and How
The next step is to determine who may be harmed by work activities and how they may be harmed. This could be the cleaner themselves, for example, if they are exposed to harsh chemicals during cleaning duties. However, it could also be members of the general public, for example, any person walking across a freshly mopped floor. Be sure to think about anyone who is particularly at risk, such as children or the elderly.
When you have identified who may be harmed, then you need to assess the level of risk they face. You will need to consider the likelihood of harm occurring and the severity of that harm. You can then move on to assessing your control measures.
Step Three: Develop and Implement Measures to Eliminate or Control Risks
Assess all the current control measures that you have in place to guard against risk as well as your work procedures. Can you eliminate the risk by changing the way you work? Taking the above examples, the cleaner could replace the harsh chemical with a different product that is less hazardous and thus eliminate the risk. A ‘wet floor’ warning sign could be put in place to reduce the risk of a slip and fall accident.
All control measures must be taken ‘as far as is reasonably practicable.’ This means that you must take into account the level of risk people face and balance it against the control measures. The higher the risk, the more stringent the control measures should be.
Step Four: Make a Record of All Your Findings
You will need to compile a written record of all risks that you have identified, the people who may be harmed and what control measures have been put in place, including any training that has been provided to staff. This is a legal requirement for businesses with more than five employees, but it is a recommended practice for all businesses.
Cleaners often work in public spaces and so are more at risk of legal action from members of the public if an accident occurs. If a dispute arises from a workplace accident or you are investigated by the HSE, then the record of your risk assessment could prove you have met your obligations.
Step Five: Regularly review the Risk Assessment and Update Procedures If Needed
All risk assessments must be regularly reviewed to be sure they are still effective. The general HSE guidance is that risk assessment reviews should take place at least once every 12 months. However, if there have been any changes to the number of staff employed, to the work environment or working practices, then a review of the risk assessment must be done.
As cleaners must often perform duties in work environments that they have no control over, it is advisable to conduct regular risk assessment reviews. If you change the equipment your employees use or provide them with different chemicals or cleaning products, then your risk assessment needs to be reviewed. A review is also required if at any time an employee reports that they do not feel the control measures are adequate or if you or a supervisor suspect the current control measures are not adequate.
How Do the COSHH Regulations Apply to Cleaning Work?
- The COSHH regulations enforce guidelines on how to handle, store and work with hazardous substances including the clean-up of spills involving hazardous substances. Many products that are used by cleaners contain chemicals that are classified as hazardous under COSHH. For this reason, employers may also need to conduct a specific COSHH risk assessment. A COSHH risk assessment places its focus specifically on:
- The nature of any hazardous substances used during work activities
- How hazardous substances are used, handled and stored
- The level of exposure to hazardous substances that employees or members of the public face
- The development of measures to eliminate or mitigate risks associated with hazardous substances
The Importance of a COVID-19 Risk Assessment
Cleaning companies and agencies are now also advised to conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment. A COVID-19 risk assessment is concerned with identifying the risks of contracting or spreading coronavirus. The UK government released a set of guidelines for businesses to follow in 2020. These guidelines were updated in June 2022 and state that a business must:
- Perform a specific COVID-19 risk assessment
- Ensure all staff are vaccinated
- Ensure working environments are well ventilated
- Encourage good hygiene procedures, such as regular hand washing and hand sanitising
- Ensure employees maintain a two-metre distance from others
- Provide appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as disposable masks and gloves
- Monitor any signs of the symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus in employees
- Isolate any employees who test positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus
Why You Need Risk Assessment Training
All employers in the UK must know how to conduct a risk assessment and ensure that sufficient measures are put in place to control risk.
Human Focus provides employers with an affordable and convenient way to get the training they need. Our Risk Assessment Training courses teach you and your employees how to properly conduct a risk assessment for cleaning activities.
We also offer a range of IOSH-approved courses that are designed to give employers and managers the knowledge and skills they require to enhance health and safety in the workplace. These courses also train you on how to identify hazards and assess the risks before and after controls are introduced.