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Health & Safety Guide: Cleaning Activities in the Retail Sector

This brief subject specific-guide is intended to help you understand what you are required to do as a minimum to ensure the safety of your employees.

What’s the issue?

Cleaning activities pose many hazards for cleaning staff, employees and members of the public. They can cause accidents such as slips and trips, manual handling and falls from height, as well as health risks such as back injuries and occupational dermatitis. An employer must undertake a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of cleaning operations and consider all those that could be affected.


What is an employer required to do?

Slips and trips

The process of cleaning can create slip and trip hazards, especially for those entering the area being cleaned, such as members of the public. Examples include smooth floors left damp and slippery, and trailing wires from a vacuum or buffing machine, which can present a trip hazard.

People often slip on floors that have been left wet after cleaning. Stop pedestrian access to smooth wet floors by using barriers, locking doors, or cleaning in sections. Signs and cones only warn of a hazard; they do not prevent people from entering the area. If the spill is not visible, it will usually be ignored.

To avoid creating hazards when cleaning, you should:

  • Use the correct amount of the right cleaning product.
  • Allow detergents enough time to work on greasy floors.
  • Maintain cleaning equipment so it remains effective.
  • Use a dry mop or squeegee on wet floors to reduce floor drying time, but remember that while the floor is damp there is still a slip risk.
  • Be aware that when using a well wrung mop, it will leave a thin film of water, sufficient to create a slip risk on a smooth floor.
  • Implement spot cleaning where possible.


Occupational dermatitis

Work-related contact dermatitis is a skin disease caused by work. It is often called eczema and develops when the skin is damaged. This leads to redness, itching, swelling, blistering, flaking and cracking. The most susceptible parts of the body are the hands, followed by the forearms and face. It can be severe enough to keep you off work or even force you to change jobs.

You can prevent dermatitis developing with a few simple measures:

  • Avoid contact with cleaning products, food and water where possible, e.g. use a dishwasher rather than washing up by hand; use utensils rather than hands to handle food.
  • Protect your skin. Where you can, wear gloves when working with substances that can cause dermatitis and moisturise your hands to replenish the skin’s natural oils.
  • Check your hands regularly for the early stages of dermatitis, i.e. itchy, dry or red skin. These symptoms should be reported to a supervisor, as treatment is much more effective if dermatitis is caught early.


Control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH)

  • Assess the risks that arise from the use of hazardous substances. This will include any arrangements to deal with accidents, incidents or emergencies, such as those resulting from serious spillages. The assessment must also include the health and safety risks arising from storage, handling or disposal of any of the substances.
  • Prevent – or if this is not reasonably practicable, control – exposure to such substances.
  • Provide staff with information, instruction and training about the risks, steps and precautions you have taken to control these risks, e.g. provision of appropriate rubber gloves or appropriate eye protection.


Substances can take many forms and include:

  • Chemicals or products containing chemicals;
  • Fumes;
  • Dusts;
  • Vapours;
  • Mists;
  • Nanotechnology gases and asphyxiating gases; and
  • Biological agents (germs).


If the packaging displays any of the hazard warning symbols, such as the “Harmful” symbol shown to the right, it is classed as a hazardous substance under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.


Back pain and musculoskeletal disorders

An assessment of the risk of musculoskeletal problems in cleaners should take account of:

  • All cleaning tasks;
  • The individual capacity of the cleaner;
  • The loads involved; and
  • The work environment.


This assessment should also consider the main risk factors, such as manual handling, awkward postures, work organisation and hand-arm vibration.

Manual handling activities should be avoided if it is reasonably practicable. If not reasonably practicable, employers should assess the risk from the activity and implement effective control measures.

Cleaning work is demanding and labour intensive. Changes within the industry mean that cleaners increasingly work under time constraints. Many tasks involve heavy manual work, putting strain on the heart, muscles and other tissues.

The main causes of aches, pains and discomfort in cleaners are:

  • Manual handling – lifting, pushing/pulling, carrying and holding loads. This can include heavy equipment and items such as polishers, vacuums, ladders, furniture and laundry.
  • Awkward postures – reaching, stretching, crouching, and kneeling. Work can involve these postures being undertaken repeatedly over a long period of time.
  • Work organisation – high work speed, time pressures, poor training and often little consideration on how cleaning can be done.
  • Using vibrating equipment – equipment can be heavy and requires forceful exertion; it can also be poorly maintained and less well designed.


Working at height

You must ensure:

  • All work at height is properly planned and organised.
  • Those involved in work at height are competent.
  • The risks from work at height are assessed and appropriate work equipment is selected and used.
  • The risks from fragile surfaces are properly controlled.
  • Equipment for work at height is properly inspected and maintained.


There is a simple hierarchy for managing and selecting equipment for work at height. Duty holders must:

  • Avoid work at height where they can.
  • Use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls where they cannot avoid working at height.
  • Where they cannot eliminate the risk of a fall, use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur.


Bira members

Get in touch with Bira Legal for further support and advice (have your Bira membership number to hand). Call 0345 450 0937 or email




Additional Guidance and Resources: 

A Quick Step by Step Guide to Buying a Business

Retail insurance with added enhancements exclusive for Bira members

Times are changing: reach out and support people

Protecting employees from contact dermatitis

How to engage with your online customers

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