Wiping for safety

27th of June 2014
Wiping for safety

Cloths and wipers are usually considered to be a relatively unimportant part of the industrial, mechanical, healthcare and food manufacturing process. As long as a cloth or wiper is close to hand when a mess needs cleaning up, this is usually considered to be a sufficient contribution to the smooth running of a workplace.

But a humble wiper can also play an important part in keeping the working environment healthy and safe for staff, visitors and customers.

Cloths and wipers are usually considered to be a relatively unimportant part of the industrial, mechanical, healthcare and food manufacturing process. As long as a cloth or wiper is close to hand when a mess needs cleaning up, this is usually considered to be a sufficient contribution to the smooth running of a workplace.

But a humble wiper can also play an important part in keeping the working environment healthy and safe for staff, visitors and customers. According to SCA’s industrial product and segment manager Stephen Belcher there are a number of ways in which wipes and cloths can help to improve workplace safety.

He says strong cleaning agents such as solvents represent a potential health hazard in the industrial workplace. “A good non-woven wiper can help to reduce the amount of solvent that needs to be used,” he said. “Some disposable products are specifically designed to retain the solvent within the cloth and to release it efficiently back on to the wiping surface. These products not only minimise the amount of solvent required for the cleaning task, they can also improve cleaning efficiency.”

He names the company’s Tork Industrial Heavy-Duty Cleaning Cloth as an example. “Besides being sufficiently strong and durable to be used with solvents, this product is also bulky enough to provide hand protection when cleaning objects that have sharp edges or ridges,” he said. “This can be another safety issue in the industrial sector.”

Pre-impregnated wipers can also help to improve workshop safety, according to Belcher. Products such as Tork Surface Cleaning Wet Wipes that come ready for use in a sealed container avoid the need for a bucket of cleaning fluid - a potential spill hazard.

And he adds that colour-coded cloths can also help to enhance safety. “Colour-coded products provide a simple method of separating each cleaning task by colour, and this reduces the risk of cross-contamination in hygiene-critical environments such as the food sector,” said Belcher. The company’s Tork Long-Lasting Colour-Coded Cleaning Cloths are available in four colours.

Product development manager for Vileda Professional Joerg Dunkel claims it was his company that first came up with the colour-coding cleaning concept around 30 years ago. All Vileda products are now colour-coded to enable operatives to differentiate between cleaning tasks.

Specific industries

Sales director of Metsä UK and Ireland Mark Dewick says certain colours have become associated with specific industries, such as blue wipers for use in food environments. “Here it is important that the wiper stands out in a consistent way so that it cannot be confused with food products,” he said. “Rag solutions are often a mix of colours which makes them inappropriate for this kind of environment.”

PGI Nonwoven’s director of product marketing James Taylor agrees that colour-coding is a vital element in ensuring wiper safety in the food sector. “Providing cloths in dedicated colours depending on food type and application will ensure that you are taking all the right precautions to prevent the risk of cross contamination – which is becoming more and more prevalent with today’s higher turnover of staff,” says Taylor.

“Managers have less time to train their employees and to engrain various cleaning processes in them which means that everyday tasks should be easy to understand and also very visible.”
PGI’s Chicopee-branded colour-coded products range from a disposable and biodegradable cloth for short-term use to more durable microfibre products.

According to Vileda Professional’s Joerg Dunkel it is often the way in which a wiper is used rather than the product itself that determines its contribution to workplace safety. “The traditional method of cleaning – the bucket method  - is when you dip a cloth or wiper in a bucket of disinfectant or detergent and then rinse, wring and wipe,” he said. “But the water becomes increasingly dirty and there is the risk you will miss the point at which the water becomes too contaminated to use.

“Another method - the spray method – is when you spray the detergent or disinfectant on to a cloth and then wipe the surface. But if the cloth is too dry, there will not be a sufficient amount of disinfectant on the cloth or wiper to leave an appropriate disinfectant ‘film’.”

He adds that both these cleaning methods should be avoided in hygiene-critical environments such as the healthcare sector.

“The right way to clean here is using a pre-prepared cloth,” said Dunkel. “Impregnated cloths and microfibres are recommended for hospitals since disposable cloths will often lint. Cleaning can be carried out safely and efficiently when the pre-prepared cloth is folded in the required way since this ensures that a fresh side of the cloth is always available for cleaning.”

Vileda offers product training for hospital cleaning staff and uses pictograms on its packaging to demonstrate how to ensure an even distribution of the cleaning product. According to Dunkel, the company’s MicroRoll is particularly suitable for use in the healthcare sector. “This is made from endless microfibres on a roll that removes 99.9 per cent of bacteria,” he said.

When it comes to industrial environments, he says, wipers and cloths require a certain degree of bulkiness in order to protect the hands against metal sharps. “Cheap paper rolls won’t offer the same level of protection,” he adds. Vileda’s semi-disposable Breazy cloth is said to offer sufficient bulkiness to protect the hands when wiping.

Metsä’s Mark Dewick agrees that the bulkiness of a cloth or wiper can help to enhance safety. Reusable cloths may contain small metallic splinter fragments that could cause damage to surfaces and to the hands, he says. “Such hazards are completely eliminated with the use of a good, bulky, two or three-ply wiper that will protect the hands when wiping uneven or sharp surfaces.”

According to Dewick dry, clean wipers provide a more efficient drying material than reusable cloths that will potentially have been contaminated with dirt, grime or solvents. “In addition, scratchy cloths or those soaked with solvent or oil may cause skin reactions or scratches and these in turn may become infected,” he said.

“One doesn’t always think to put on gloves when wiping up a spill in a hurry. A clean, dry disposable wiper that has been dermatologically tested and approved will be soft on the hands in all circumstances.”

He says clean disposable wipers also provide a greater level of protection against dermatitis. “The integrity of the surface area is good when it is removed from the dispenser or roll, whereas the integrity of a rag can be compromised at any point.”

PGI Nonwoven’s James Taylor also says that fine metals can become a problem if they remain behind in laundered rags after cleaning. “These could result in high levels of exposure
over time,” he said. “On top of this, laundered rags and towels come in all shapes, sizes and thicknesses. This makes it hard to know how many times to fold the product and what heat protection it offers.”

He claims a product such as his company’s SuperTwill can help to resolve such issues since they have a uniform size and thickness. SuperTwill has also been independently certified as being heat-resistant.

Immediate access

Perhaps one of the key ways in which immediate access to a cloth or wiper can improve workplace safety is when it is used to quickly clean up spills to prevent falls.

“Slips and trips are among the major causes of injuries at work, and most slips occur when a floor is either wet or dirty,” said SCA’s Stephen Belcher. “In an industrial environment substances such as grease, oil and solvent are often spilled. Here there should be general purpose wipers provided close at hand and within easy reach of staff. This allows spills to be quickly mopped up so that the slipping hazard is removed.”

Metsä’s Mark Dewick agrees that it is crucial to remove spills quickly and efficiently. “Even after thorough washing, reusable cleaning cloths may contain residues of oils, fats, solvents and cleaning agents as well as the detergent used in the washing process,” he said. “As a result the wiping process may not be as efficient as it could be and residues could be left behind. This could be as dangerous on floors as the original spill - or even more so if it is a greasy residue.”

And Vileda’s Joerg Dunkel says his company’s new Spillex floor cloths represent a solution to the problem of trips and spills.

“Traditionally there hasn’t been a good solution available on the market,” said Dunkel. “Some companies use cotton cloths for wiping up spills, but these aren’t always very effective – particularly when older cloths are used.”

The company’s new Spillex floor cloths are said to be particularly suitable for use in supermarkets, shopping malls, care homes and operating theatres where spills could constitute a contamination hazard or cause slips and falls.

“These cloths are based on the technology used for making babies’ nappies and have a high content of super-absorbent polymers,” said Dunkel. “This makes them particularly effective when cleaning up water-based spills.”


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