If any of the chemicals used for cleaning at your workplace are capable of injuring people or damaging property, they are considered hazardous chemicals and must be stored safely. Because cleaning chemicals are sometimes perceived as relatively harmless they are often overlooked in safety audits — with disastrous consequences. 

EXAMPLE 1: an employee left an unmarked plastic container of industrial cleaner in the sink, then another employee picked it up and used the container to store vanilla syrup. Three customers (including a 7-year-old boy) all suffered burns to their throats after they were served contaminated milkshakes. Luckily none of them became seriously ill.

EXAMPLE 2: an employee mistook the chemical degreaser lye for sugar and placed it in a customer’s tea. The lady who drank the tea was hospitalized in critical condition with severe burns to the mouth, throat, and stomach. She eventually recovered telling her husband she thought she had drunk acid. 

These two incidents should never have happened and illustrate why all dangerous goods (which include hazardous chemicals used for cleaning) must be clearly labeled, and stored safely away from food service areas. This little blog will help you understand your legal obligations when storing cleaning chemicals at work. 

REMEMBER: any substance that cannot be readily identified must also be treated as a hazardous chemical. 

There are four key elements to safely storing chemicals at work. Let’s look at each of them in detail. 

1. Clearly Labeling Containers 

One of the most important aspects of storing cleaning chemicals is making sure they are clearly labeled. It is so easy for cleaning chemicals to be mixed up and confused with other items. 

  • Bulk and permanent containers 

Cleaning chemicals usually arrive from your supplier in bulk containers or great big drums. These usually act as the permanent storage containers and must be clearly marked with … 

  • Name of the chemical  
  • Hazard class and category 
  • Pictogram code  
  • Signal word 
  • Hazard Statement 

You can get this information from the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) which should ideally be located alongside the containers. 

Portable containers 

Many  cleaning agents are dispensed into portable containers (like a spray bottle) so they can be put to work. It is essential that these smaller containers are also clearly labeled so they are not confused with other substances (remember the little kid who was served a poisoned vanilla milkshake). 

When labeling portable containers you need to name the chemical (along with it’s hazards) on the bottle or beaker. You also need to make sure:- 

  • the label is legible and easy to read 
  • the label is permanent and cannot be defaced or washed off 
  • Safety Data Sheet (SDS) are still accessible 
  • staff are trained to use the chemical and know the location of the SDS in the event of an emergency. 

REMEMBER: just putting labels on a container of chemicals does not extinguish your WHS responsibilities. You must manage the risk associated with each hazardous chemical at your worksite. 

2. Obtain the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) 

A Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is a legal document that specifies the hazards associated with a chemical and gives handling, first aid and emergency information. In a workplace an SDS should be obtained for each and every chemical and stored near the containers (as well as in a master hazardous chemical register). 

Of course it’s not practical to have an SDS stuck to every portable cleaning container so make sure staff who use and access the chemicals know exactly where they are (and what to do in an emergency). 

3. Secure Cleaning Chemicals 

Like all dangerous goods, cleaning chemicals need to stored in a secure area according to their hazard class. Oxidisers, flammable and combustible substances need to be stored away from ignition sources like flames, heat, sunlight, static electricity or any work operations that could cause a spark. Many corrosives need to be separated from other incompatible substances to prevent toxic reactions and explosions.  

Securing cleaning chemicals in a safety cabinet away from food preparation and service areas is a great way to reduce the risk of harm. This  prevents unauthorised staff (who are not trained) from accessing chemicals and using them incorrectly.  

When storing cleaning chemicals in a cabinet make sure that … 

  • chemical containers are appropriate to the hazard class (refer to the SDS for each chemical). 
  • the storage area is well ventilated 
  • portable containers are be returned to the safety cabinet when not being used 
  • the cabinet is labeled with the correct Dangerous Goods signage 
  • SDS are accessible and stored with each chemical 

REMEMBER: portable containers of cleaning products need to be secure at all times — train staff not to leave them lying around (don’t forget the employee who mistook a corrosive substance lye for sugar).  

4. Train Staff 

Training staff to use and store cleaning chemicals correctly is of critical importance. Many cleaning agents are flammable and corrosive and pose a risk to the person using them. Don’t let staff mistakenly believe that cleaning chemicals are low risk and relatively harmless.  

 When staff know the risks associated with each chemical and how to use them correctly, they are less likely to loan them out to staff in other departments or leave them lying around. 

 Your cleaning staff should be trained to .. 

  • use the chemical correctly and what to do in an emergency (poisoning, exposure, toxic reaction, explosion, fire) 
  • wear suitable safety clothing and PPE when dispensing and using cleaning chemicals 
  • dispense chemicals into portable containers in a well ventilated area 
  • label portable containers clearly and correctly 
  • not allow untrained staff access to chemicals 
  • keep portable containers secure when not being used (on a trolley, clipped to a belt, in a carry basket, put away in the safety cabinet) 
  • know the location of the MSDS 

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