COVID-19 Cleaning Protocols: Beware of Chemical Exposure Dangers

By Jim Wirth posted 26 days ago


As COVID-19 and its variants continue to be present in the workplace, it is important to convey to managers and employees the importance of following precautions when using sanitizing, cleaning, and disinfecting chemicals. Enhanced sanitation protocols for COVID-19 and its variants may necessitate the use of new chemicals in the workplace. Therefore, appropriate chemical safety policies, procedures, and training are essential to keep workers safe.

Fortunately, the OSHA/PERRP Hazard Communication Standard has provided employers with the framework to make working with new chemicals easy to incorporate into their existing program. HazCom is based on a simple concept - that employees have both a need and a right to know (understand) the hazards and identities of the chemicals they are exposed to when working and any protective measures available to prevent adverse effects from occurring.

In accordance with the regulations, the employer’s Hazard Communication program should include a description of workplace-specific container labeling, pictograms, Safety Data Sheets (SDS), employee training, an index of the hazardous chemicals used or stored on site (can be included with the SDS’s), the hazards of non-routine tasks, the hazards associated with chemicals contained in unlabeled pipes and a description of how chemical hazard & labeling information, SDS and protective measures are available to other employers onsite.

Other aspects of the HazCom program may include:

  • A current safety data sheet for each chemical used or stored on-site
  • Asking your chemical supplier for product training
  • Ensuring employee knowledge of chemicals (i.e., is vinegar a chemical?)
  • Dispose of outdated and/or unused chemicals stored on-site
  • Review cleaning equipment — buckets, bottles, containers, rags, mops, sponges, etc.
  • Familiarize employees with chemicals that may be on-site or in their work area                                    
  • Verify that only trained persons handle chemicals
  • Post pictograms depicting how to handle chemicals
  • Outside contractors working on your premises should provide management with the SDS, labels, and precautionary measures for any chemicals they bring on-site to which your employees could potentially be exposed.  Conversely, your organization will provide the same information to outside contractors as applicable.

Employees who work with or are potentially exposed to hazardous chemicals at work should receive training at the time of initial assignment (prior to starting work) and whenever a new hazard is introduced into the work area.  Training shall include at least the following:
  • Operations in employees’ work areas where hazardous chemicals are present.
  • Any release detection methods are used.
  • Physical & health hazards of applying chemicals.
  • Any hazards associated with combustible dust, simple asphyxiation, pyrophoric gasses, and any hazards not otherwise classified.
  • General training on the safe use and handling of chemicals used in the facility.
  • Protective measures such as safe work and emergency procedures.
  • The PPE is necessary to work with the chemical safely.
  • SDS, container label information and pictograms.
  • Any other applicable elements of the company’s Hazard Communication program.

 Following training, your employees should have a solid understanding of the following:

  • SDS information for the chemicals with which they work or could be exposed.
  • Understand the health effects and know the correct protective equipment to wear.
  • Any unlabeled container found must be labeled.
  • Damaged or otherwise unreadable labels must be replaced.
  • When transferring a chemical to another container, label it first.
  • Where new or replacement container labels can be obtained.
  • The location of the SDS, chemical index, and company’s Hazard Communication program.
  • The employee should always ask their Supervisor if they have questions about hazardous chemicals before using them.
  • If ever required to perform a non-routine task (something different from normal job duties) that involves unfamiliar chemicals, employees must first be trained.

Common Cleaning Products That Cannot Be Mixed Together

  • Bleach and vinegar produce chlorine gas when mixed, causing coughing and difficulty breathing, as well as burning, watery eyes. Exposure may be fatal. 
  • Bleach and rubbing alcohol produce chloroform when mixed. The mixture is highly toxic and may be fatal.                                                                                                   
  • Bleach and ammonia produce chloramine gas when mixed, causing difficulty breathing and chest pain. Exposure may be fatal. 
  • Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar create peracetic acid, a corrosive acid that can harm the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. While it's okay to use the two in succession on a surface, don't ever mix hydrogen peroxide and vinegar in the same bottle.

The Division of Safety & Hygiene’s safety, industrial hygiene, and ergonomics specialists can help you develop effective strategies to make your workplace safer and healthier. They can visit your workplace or consult with you by telephone or email. These services are available for any private or public employer.  BWC also offers specialized options for certain employers.  You can request these services online at: or 1.800.644.6292.

Jim Wirth at 614.546.7331 or