Work related asthma (WRA) has become the most prevalent occupational lung disease in the developed world according to the Respiratory Division of the University of British Columbia, Department of Medicine.
Chlorine bleach or sodium hypochlorite was recently categorised as an asthma causing agent (asthmagen) by the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics, and incidences of WRA formed a substantial basis for the decision. However, a range of factors have prompted a decisive shift away from these toxic compounds.
Libby Sharp, President of the South East Queensland Professional Housekeepers Association (SEQPHA) provided comment.
“Safety was the main reason we stopped using liquid chlorine bleach,” Ms Sharp said. “We had several cases where workers made compensation claims as a result of various injuries, including damage to their eyes resulting from the use of bleach.”
Denise Miller is a SEQPHA Committee Member and had previously implemented her own safety procedures for bleach use. She said, “We had to remove bleach from the carts due to the dangers of spillage or injury. If the use of bleach was necessary, a staff member would call down and a designated staff member with the appropriate personal protective equipment would apply the product and then return it to storage.”
In relation to cleaning methods for the overall guest rooms, Ms Sharp advised that at least sixty percent of SEQPHA members had switched to micro fibre methods, commenting, “Although there is a transition period to go through and investment has to be made, our members have found it to be more efficient overall and the results are actually better.”
Liz Lycette, the Founder of Housekeeping Advisory Firm, Lycette and Associates, recognises a shift in the industry as well as the marketplace. She said, “When it comes to bathrooms, steam is faster than harsh chemicals and helps to avoid guest complaints. For example, if a guest opens their door and the tell-tale smell of bleach is present, they will comment.”
Spokesman for the Healthy Hotels Program, Nicson White, believes that greater awareness, together with increased guest sensitivity to chemicals has driven the parallel change in consumer trends. “Demand for organic food is growing at twenty to thirty percent per year in Australia. This is a trend primarily driven by people’s desire to avoid pesticides and chemical residue,” said Mr White.
“Multiple chemical sensitivity affects as many as twenty five percent of the developed population in some form. There is clearly a vested interest within a large cross section of guests due directly to their own individual health concerns.”
Ms Sharp also commented on guest demand, “We regularly get people calling in saying they are allergic to bleach or chemicals. We take a step further when that happens and our staff will clean the room with warm water and vinegar.”
At her property, Ms Miller advises that some guests call ahead due to having skin allergies, whilst others are very sensitive to scents and request that no air fresheners be used.
Environmental Scientist, Cedric Cheong of the Healthy Hotels Program, expressed his concern from a liability perspective, stating “In Australia, people such as Executive Housekeepers and Maintenance Managers need to know that anyone considered by Safe Work Australia to be conducting a business undertaking (PCBU) is legally responsible for any injuries their workers may sustain as a result of chlorine bleach exposure.”
Education is a primary issue according to Mr Cheong, “The most common feedback I receive is that bleach is the only thing people believe they can use to kill mould. In fact, chlorine bleach does not kill mould, but only changes the colour of it. Therefore people are unknowingly covering it up instead of fixing the problem, as well as exposing themselves to a known asthmagen.”
Dr Claire Bird, an Environment and Risk Advisor at the Healthy Hotels Program, suggested that monitoring hotel room conditions could help reduce the burden on cleaning.
“Understanding the triggers and what they mean in terms of how the building is designed, operated, maintained and managed can prevent the occurrence of certain hazards such as mould, and therefore the need to treat them in the first place,” said Dr Bird.
“A building management approach aimed at preventing guest exposure to harmful contaminants often provides a sensible alternative to fixing the damage with toxic chemicals.”
Dr Bird advised that the combined threat of cleaning products, such as chlorine bleach and microbiological contaminants in both surface and airborne form, provides sufficient argument for controlling these factors at the source. For hoteliers, this not only reduces the risk of guests inhaling potential allergens, toxins and infectious agents, it is also likely to lower the direct maintenance costs in the form of reduced staff time and consumable usage.
Accommodation providers who have not yet reviewed their property’s usage of chlorine bleach are advised to contact the Healthy Hotels Program or their current risk assessment organisation to discuss safer alternatives.