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European Agency for Safety and Health at Work

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cleaning workers

Cleaning workers

Cleaning is a multi-million Euro industry employing millions of workers across Europe, most of them in small business. Cleaning is carried out in every workplace. Many demographic and employment models coexist, which make it difficult to ensure the safety and health of cleaning workers. However, by starting with a better understanding of cleaners' working conditions these can be improved as this web feature aims to show.

Cleaning is a generic job – it is carried out in all industry groups and all workplaces, and the cleaning industry has proved over several years to be one of the most dynamic sectors representing one of the largest services to business industries in the European Union. The employment structure ranges from large public and private enterprises employing or subcontracting many cleaners to “self-employed” individuals. Women make up the great majority of cleaners and many are migrant workers. The work is often temporary, with irregular working times and hours.

Cleaners have to cope with perceived as being ‘only cleaners’, with their qualifications and experiences disregarded and working “invisibly” – cleaning workplaces at night; taken for granted. The hazards and risks faced by cleaners include:

  • Exposure to dangerous substances, including biological agents than can lead to asthma, allergies, and bloodborne infections
  • Noise and vibration
  • Slips, trips, and falls, particularly during "wet work"
  • Electrical hazards from work equipment
  • Risks of musculoskeletal disorders
  • Lone working, work-related stress, violence, and bullying
  • Irregular working time and patterns

Preventing harm to cleaning workers requires changes not only in cleaning companies, but also in our perception of cleaning, and how we obtain cleaning services
. Changing employment patterns, such as moving from night to daytime cleaning, better procurement, taking into account value rather than just price, and better liaison between the client and the cleaning company can directly reduce the risk of harm to cleaning workers.


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