Are cleaning chemicals dangerous – how should I store them?

Consideration should be given to the safe storage of cleaning chemicals. This is not difficult or onerous, but it is important (as the case below demonstrates).  Some cleaning materials are corrosive and can cause burns (especially to the eyes and face).  Storage should be considered as part of a COSHH and/or a workplace risk assessment.

•    The storage location should be secure

•    Display a warning (if hazardous substances are stored there) a warning notice should be displayed.

•    The bottles of cleaning chemicals should be sealed and labels should be visible.

•    The storage area should not be overcrowded.

•    Efforts should be taken to avoid storing corrosive substances (such as drain or oven cleaner) at head height or above.

For more detailed advice, or help with risk assessments, etc, please contact us through our website.

Unpleasant case

A waitress at a hotel suffered burns to her eyes, face, and chest when an open bottle of oven cleaner splashed on her.  The waitress, aged 22, was working at a hotel in County Durham, when the incident took place in May 2009.

The hotel was hosting a wedding and the waitress was asked by the hotel’s trainee manager to help find a roll of mop-up tissue. While searching for the roll inside an unlit storage cupboard, she disturbed a bottle of oven cleaner had been stored on a shelf three feet above ground level, without a lid and with the warning labels pointing away from her. As she moved the bottle, the liquid splashed on to her face and she suffered corneal abrasion on her eyes and burns to her face and chest. She was unable to return to work for two weeks, but has subsequently made a full recovery.

The owners of the hotel appeared at Darlington Magistrates’ Court on 12 October 2011 and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 and reg.8 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, for failing to adequately light the cupboard. It was fined a total of £8700 and £3229 in costs.

In mitigation, the company said it had adequate procedures in place and its staff should have followed them. It has subsequently put a light in the cupboard and installed signs to warn that dangerous chemicals are stored inside. The oven cleaner is now kept at the bottom of the cupboard and the company monitors who has access to the storage area.

After the hearing, the council’s head of environment, health and consumer protection, Joanne Waller, said:

“This case should serve as a warning to other businesses that they need to take their responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of their staff seriously… It is not enough for employers to simply have risk assessments and procedures written down – they must also make sure their staff are aware of them and follow them properly.”