If any of the chemicals used for cleaning at your workplace are capable of injuring people or damaging property, they are considered hazardous chemicals and must be stored safely. Because  cleaning chemicals are sometimes perceived as relatively harmless they are often overlooked in safety audits — with disastrous consequences. 

Examples of Cleaning Chemical Hazards

To help you store cleaning chemicals in a safe and compliant way, we'll be looking at some examples where cleaning chemicals have created a hazard in the workplace. We'll then show you how to avoid these incidents through correct cleaning chemical storage.

EXAMPLE 1: An employee left an unmarked plastic container of industrial cleaner in the sink, then another employee picked it up and used the container to store vanilla syrup. Three customers (including a 7 year old boy) all suffered burns to their throats after they were served contaminated milkshakes. Luckily none of them became seriously ill. 

EXAMPLE 2: An employee mistook the chemical degreaser lye for sugar and placed it in a customer’s tea. The lady who drank the tea was hospitalised in critical condition with severe burns to the mouth, throat and stomach. She eventually recovered telling her husband she thought she had drunk acid. 

These two incidents should never have happened and illustrate why all dangerous goods (which include hazardous chemicals used for cleaning) must be clearly labeled, and stored safely away from food service areas. 

There are four key elements to safely storing chemicals at work. Let’s look at each of them in detail below:

1. Clearly Labeling Containers 

One of the most important aspects of storing cleaning chemicals is making sure they are clearly labeled. It is so easy for cleaning chemicals to be mixed up and confused with other items. 

Bulk and Permanent Containers 

Cleaning chemicals usually arrive from your supplier in bulk containers or great big drums. These usually act as the permanent storage containers and must be clearly marked with: 

  • Name of the chemical  
  • Hazard class and category 
  • Pictogram code  
  • Signal word 
  • Hazard Statement 

You can get this information from the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) which should ideally be kept in a folder within a sturdy, waterproof document holder installed on or near your chemical cabinet or store.

Portable Containers 

Many  cleaning agents are dispensed into portable containers (like a spray bottle) so they can be put to work. However, it's essential that these smaller containers are also clearly labeled so they are not confused with other substances. When labeling portable containers, you need to name the chemical (along with it’s hazards) on the bottle or beaker.

You also need to make sure that the:

  • Label is legible and easy to read 
  • Label is permanent and cannot be defaced or washed off 
  • Safety Data Sheet (SDS) are still accessible 
  • Staff are trained to use the chemical and know the location of the SDS in the event of an emergency. 

REMEMBER: Putting labels on a container of chemicals does not extinguish your WHS responsibilities. You must manage the risk associated with each hazardous chemical at your worksite. 

2. Obtain the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) 

A Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is a legal document that specifies the hazards associated with a chemical and gives handling, first aid and emergency information.

In a workplace, an Safety Data Sheet should be obtained for each and every chemical and stored near the containers (as well as in a master hazardous chemical register). 

Of course it’s not practical to have an SDS stuck to every portable cleaning container so make sure staff who use and access the chemicals know exactly where they are (and what to do in an emergency). 

3. Secure Cleaning Chemicals 

Like all dangerous goods, cleaning chemicals need to stored in a secure area according to their hazard class. Oxidisers, flammable and combustible substances need to be stored away from ignition sources like flames, heat, sunlight, static electricity or any work operations that could cause a spark. Many corrosives need to be separated from other incompatible substances to prevent toxic reactions and explosions.  

Securing cleaning chemicals in a safety cabinet away from food preparation and service areas is a great way to reduce the risk of harm. This  prevents unauthorised staff (who are not trained) from accessing chemicals and using them incorrectly.  

toxic cabinet open

Safety cabinets, such as this toxic substance storage cabinet, offer dedicated storage for cleaning chemicals in the workplace with features including spill containment, vapour control and lockable doors for security.

Storing Cleaning Chemicals in a Safety Cabinet

When storing your cleaning chemicals in a dedicated safety cabinet, make sure that you also ensure correct usage and maintenance of cleaning supplies.

We recommend ensuring:

  • Chemical containers are appropriate to the hazard class (refer to the SDS for each chemical). 
  • The storage area is well ventilated 
  • Tortable containers are be returned to the safety cabinet when not being used 
  • The cabinet is labeled with the correct Dangerous Goods signage 
  • SDS are accessible and stored with each chemical 

REMEMBER: Portable containers of cleaning products need to be secure at all times — train staff not to leave them lying around (don’t forget the employee who mistook a corrosive substance for sugar).  

4. Train Staff 

Training staff to use and store cleaning chemicals correctly is of critical importance. Many cleaning agents are flammable and corrosive and pose a risk to the person using them. Don’t let staff mistakenly believe that cleaning chemicals are low risk and relatively harmless.  

 When staff know the risks associated with each chemical and how to use them correctly, they are less likely to loan them out to staff in other departments or leave them lying around. 

 Your cleaning staff should be trained to .. 

  • Use the chemical correctly and what to do in an emergency (poisoning, exposure, toxic reaction, explosion, fire) 
  • Wear suitable safety clothing and PPE when dispensing and using cleaning chemicals 
  • Dispense chemicals into portable containers in a well ventilated area 
  • Label portable containers clearly and correctly 
  • Only allow trained staff access
  • Keep portable containers secure when not being used (on a trolley, clipped to a belt, in a carry basket, put away in the safety cabinet) 
  • Know how to read the Safety Data Sheet, and where it is located

Remember: in Australia, all hazardous substances (including cleaning chemicals) must be safely managed at a worksite. Part of this process involves clearly labeling all containers, having SDSs stored with each chemical, securing cleaning chemicals (including portable containers) in a safety cabinet away from food  areas and ignition sources, PLUS training staff to use and store them correctly. 

Safe Storage of Cleaning Chemicals

To make sure you are fulfilling your WHS obligations, we strongly recommend downloading our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. It’s in an easy-to-understand format to help get your workplace compliant and much safer too. Read it today. 

 New call-to-action

Like what you’re reading?

Need Personalized Advice?

From product enquiries to compliance advice, we're here to help you create a safer workplace.