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August 14, 2013
Walmart agrees to fines, will change cleaning procedures

A settlement agreement by retail giant Walmart® is focusing attention on risks to workers who operate trash compactors and work with cleaning chemicals. Under the agreement, Walmart agreed to improvements at all 2,857 Walmart and Sam’s Club Stores in states with federal OSHA jurisdiction.

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Keep reading to find out what you can learn from the Walmart enforcement case.

The case results from violations uncovered by OSHA at a Walmart store in Rochester, New York, in 2011. The agency proposed $365,500 in proposed fines for hazards similar to those identified at other locations. Walmart will pay $190,000 in safety and health penalties and will make changes, including:

  • Improved hazard communication training;
  • Enhanced procedures to ensure that employees do not handle undiluted chemicals;
  • Establishment of a protective protocol in case of malfunctions with equipment used to dispense cleaning chemicals; and
  • Employee training on the new procedures in a language that they understand.

Don’t underestimate the risk of cleaning chemicals!

Chemicals used for cleaning can be just as hazardous as those used in manufacturing or other processes. According to OSHA, many factors influence whether a cleaning chemical can cause health problems. These include:

  • Chemical ingredients of the cleaning product;
  • How the product is used or stored;
  • Ventilation in the area where the product is used;
  • The presence of splashes or spills;
  • Whether the product comes in contact with the skin; and
  • The release of mists, vapors, and/or gases.

OSHA notes that mixing cleaning products that contain bleach and ammonia can cause severe lung damage or death. Some cleaners can cause asthma or trigger asthma attacks. And some cleaners contain hazardous chemicals that can enter the body through skin contact or from breathing gases into the lungs.

The agency recommends these safe work practices for using hazardous cleaning chemicals:

  • Warn workers not to mix products that contain bleach and ammonia.
  • Make sure employees know which chemicals must be diluted and how to correctly dilute them.
  • Review and train workers on use, storage, and emergency spill procedures.
  • Review necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and goggles, and provide it.
  • Make sure all containers and chemicals are properly labeled.
  • Provide ventilation systems to allow sufficient air flow and prevent buildup of hazardous vapors.
  • Provide workers with a place to wash after using cleaning chemicals.
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