The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) together with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has issued advisories designed to protect workers from exposure to cleaning products which may be hazardous to their health. OSHA has also raised the concern that so called “green” products may not be “green” enough to ensure a worker’s safety.

Workers exposed to cleaning chemicals can suffer from a wide range of medical conditions including coughing and wheezing, red or itchy eyes, skin rashes or burns, shortness of breath, sore throat, headaches or dizziness, nose bleeds or asthma. If you have health problems that you think are caused by using cleaning chemicals, you should tell your supervisor and ask to see a doctor immediately.

Your employer is required to provide a safe workplace which includes adequate ventilation when using chemicals as well as protective clothing, gloves and safety goggles. Cleaning chemicals need to be clearly marked. Employers are required to train employees to know the hazards of the cleaning chemicals before using them how to store them, when and how to dilute them and what to do if there is a spill. It is particularly important to know that mixing cleaning products that contain bleach and ammonia can cause severe lung damage or death.

Many employers and building managers are purchasing “green” cleaning products with the expectation that the “green” cleaning products are safer for workers in the environment. However, just because a chemical cleaner is labeled to be “green” does not necessarily mean it has been certified by an independent organization as safer to use and less harmful to your health and environment. Only those products which are certified by independent organizations can truly qualify as “green” products.  Many of these have met performance standards for its intended use.  Even better, many “green” cleaners are fragrance free but still clean effectively.  However, workers may still need to use protective clothing, gloves or safety goggles with some certified “green” cleaners.  This is why it is very important for employers and employees alike to use the information contained in the Material Safety Data Sheets to know not only what symptom and health problems may be associated with the chemical, but also what type of protective equipment is recommended and what are the proper procedures for cleaning up spills.

If you think you have been exposed to hazardous chemicals, you should obtain the Material Safety Data Sheet and report the exposure immediately.

Arthur Kravitz is a Shareholder in Stark & Stark’s Lawrenceville, New Jersey office, specializing in Workers’ Compensation Law. For more information, please contact Mr. Kravitz.