It’s difficult to evaluate how prevalent injuries and illnesses are in the cleaning sector. Cleaning jobs are spread out over multiple different industries and employment contracts vary. Some cleaners are self-employed, and many are contracted by a company to work for a variety of clients. Sometimes a cleaner will be given a permanent job contract within one company, such as the NHS. A large proportion of cleaning work is undeclared, occurring in private households where there is no formal health and safety regulation.
Cleaning is hard work physically, and cleaners are exposed to a multitude of different chemicals and occasionally heavy equipment. The contractual nature of cleaning puts cleaners at risk. One cleaner may have to work in several different environments, some of which may be safer than others.
The cleaning industry at a glance:
- About 50% of cleaners in Europe are over 45. Please see our article regarding risks to older workers.
- While most cleaners are women, less than 24% of their managers are female. Working while pregnant can be a big issue to the health and safety of cleaners.
- Cleaners are often immigrants, and may have concerns over their eligibility to work in the UK, meaning that they may be unlikely to report accidents and injuries.
- Cleaning workers are often in a precarious employment situation, which means that they may be reluctant to insist on safe working conditions, or to pursue a personal injury claim in the instance that they are injured or become ill.
What puts cleaners at risk of
We have examined data from EU-OSHA (European Agency for Health and Safety at Work) and The Equality and Human Rights Commission to get a clearer picture of what kind of problems people in the cleaning industry face, that may be putting their health at risk.
1. Cleaners have little control over the work-organisation of their job.
Often a client will dictate how quickly they want the job to be completed, and cleaners have to work at a fast pace. Sometimes, additional jobs may have to be undertaken on an ad-hoc basis. For example, if someone had been sick on a carpet, the cleaner may be expected to clean this on top of their usual workload, within the same time frame.
2. Cleaners are often subcontractors.
In order to reduce costs, businesses tend to outsource cleaners rather
3. Cleaners often work outside of day time hours.
So as not to disrupt the working day for the rest of the staff members, cleaners are often expected to work at night. This puts them at risk of accidents and injury due to fatigue,
4. Cleaners are at risk from dirt and dust.
When cleaning, dust may enter the worker’s body through the eyes, nose, mouth or skin and may be inhaled or swallowed and digested. Dust can contain human debris, paper and other fibres, micro-organisms (bacteria, viruses, mould), volatile organic compounds and minerals such as quartz or trace metals. A worker may be at more at risk of dust inhalation or ingestion in certain environments such as renovation or construction sites.
5. Cleaners are at risk from the cleaning chemicals used.
Cleaning products for domestic use are usually mixtures of different chemicals including dermal and respiratory irritants and sensitisers. Cleaners are often exposed to corrosive, or carcinogenic compounds.
6. Cleaners may work in dangerous physical environments.
Cleaning work encompasses physical hazards such as ladders and elevated platforms, wet floors, moving or rotating machinery parts, or sharp objects. Slips trips and falls are the most common accident in this sector. Some respondents to a survey by The Equality Human Rights Commission said that their employers expected them to do risky jobs, such as unblocking toilets, disposing of hypodermic needles, or operating a buffer machine, without any formal training.
7. Ergonomic factors put cleaners at risk of
Cleaners often work bent forward with twisted backs doing fast, repetitive movements. They may also be expected to carry heavy loads. This all puts cleaners at risk from musculoskeletal disorders and injuries. Please see our article about musculoskeletal disorders for more information.
8. Cleaners are often exposed to vibrations.
Machinery such as buffing machines may be used in cleaning work. Exposure to
9. Lack of personal protective equipment.
While the majority of cleaners report that they are provided with the correct personal protective clothing, gloves and masks, some cleaners complained to The Equality Human Rights Commission that the equipment was not good quality enough, or that it was not replaced properly enough.
10. Cleaners can be at additional risk in pregnancy.
The physical demands of cleaning and exposure to chemicals can put pregnant cleaners and their babies at risk. In most jobs, women do not take maternity leave until they are around 8 months pregnant. The unstable nature of cleaning jobs may mean that pregnant women feel pressured to work at the same level of productivity as they did before they were pregnant. One woman even reported to The Equality Human Rights Commission that she was forced to work on a hospital ward where Norovirus was present, even though they were aware of her condition and how and this would put her at risk. Pregnant women should not be expected to lift heavy items, use heavy machinery, be exposed to chemicals or bacteria and viruses. Not only do pregnant women have impaired immune systems and are at greater risk of injury,
11. Cleaners may be unaware of the risks they are being exposed to.
Many cleaners report that they see their job as just an extension of the cleaning work they undertake at home and see cleaning as a harmless activity. However, it’s the frequency and intensity of being exposed to harmful chemicals, dusts or other dangers that increases the risk. While someone may be using a carcinogenic cleaning product at home, they are unlikely to be exposed to it for multiple hours in the day.
Reported injuries and illnesses in the cleaning sector (according to EU-OSHA):
- Musculoskeletal disorders, including back pain, shoulder tension and joint pain.
- Skin diseases or dermatitis (particularly caused by lack of personal protective equipment).
- Respiratory disorders.
- Circulatory disorders, including cardiovascular disorders.
- Injuries including needle stick injuries.
- Gastrointestinal complaints.
- Infections in general.
- Metabolic disorders.
- Urinary disorders.
- Eye symptoms.
- Disturbance of general well being, nervousness, sleeping disorders.
Personal injury claims for cleaners who feel their illness or injury may be caused by work:
Personal injury law can be very complex and can be made more so by the nature in which cleaners are employed. However, this is something we often work with. In many industries, working as a subcontractor is the norm and workers will move from venue to venue frequently.
A personal injury or illness may be attributed to one or more places of work, and a personal injury claim can even be made when the employer who is to blame is no longer in business.
You may be worried that making a personal injury claim would cause a backlash from your employer and you may be fired or have your hours reduced, or you may even worry that your claim may cause financial hardship for your employer. There are employment laws to protect you from unfair dismissal or treatment at work, and the insurers make payouts for personal injury claims, they do not come out of the pockets of your employer.
Speak to a solicitor about making a claim.
If you think you have an injury or illness that may have been caused by, or worsened by your work, the best thing to do is to fill in our claims form and speak face to face with one of our experienced local solicitors. You will not have to pay anything if we think you will not be able to make a claim. We will be able to deal with the complexities of personal injury claims in this sector and answer any questions you may have.