Preventing harm to cleaning workers
The cleaning industry is one of the largest and most dynamic service sectors in the European Union. Rapidly developing technological processes require rapidly developing maintenance and cleaning procedures. Cleaning is a generic job — it is carried out in all industry groups and all workplaces, outside and inside, including public areas. Cleaning is needed in every sector of the economy, and thus cleaners are better defined by task rather than by sector. Common tasks are surface cleaning, including mopping, dusting, vacuuming, polishing of floors and work surfaces and routine housekeeping. Cleaners have to cope with changing workplaces, surfaces and cleaning materials, yet they are perceived as being ‘only cleaners’, with their qualifications and experience disregarded. But choosing the right cleaning agents, equipment and procedures is important. The occupational safety and health conditions depend on the environment and workplaces where the cleaners work but are poor in general. This is partly due to the specific contractual situation of many cleaning jobs. Most of the cleaning work is performed as contract cleaning where the cleaners are employed by a cleaning company but work within the premises of one or more “host companies”. The employer, i.e. cleaning company, is responsible for the health and safety of their cleaning workers but is not in control of the environment in which they work in the host company. Because cleaning work comprises a wide variety of tasks, cleaners are potentially exposed to a wide variety of chemical, biological, physical and psychosocial risks. The Agency has included the cleaners in its annual programme of the last two years. The aim of this seminar was to promote the prevention of harm to cleaning workers by raising policy makers’ and stakeholders’ awareness for the issue and to discuss and to spread information on good practice examples via intermediates to the workplace.