“I’m concerned that we’re not doing all we can to handle our laundry chemicals safely. What chemicals pose the greatest hazards? How should they be stored? Are there records we should be keeping? What kind of personal protective equipment is recommended?”
Chemicals Supply: Kevin McLaren, Dober Group, Woodridge, Ill.
The topic of chemical safety, despite its importance, is all too often glossed over.
Whether the sense of complacency is attributed to the belief that “it’s only laundry,” or a “disconnect” between the compartmentalized packaging and chemical content, the chemistries used by the textile rental industry have the potential to cause adverse effects. They require hazard assessment and mandate that all employees be well versed in product knowledge and safety requirements.
The transition from powder to liquid products may be partially responsible for the lack of attention on chemical safety, as it was only a few years ago that open drums of powdered products were the norm within the laundry facility.
Unlike dry products, which can be brushed off if they come into contact with skin, today’s liquid products carry the chemicals into direct contact with the skin/body/environment should an exposure occur.
In addition to employee contact, liquid products come into contact with the multiple equipment components used to dispense them to the wash floor. This equipment requires changing of squeeze tubes, exchanging full drums for empties, and moving product delivery wands and lines. Any of these activities can cause chemical splash or contact.
Further, many delivery systems are under some form of pressure when ready to send liquid product from the chemical container to the wash floor. This pressurization creates another potential hazard, as any release could direct the chemicals either horizontally or upward rather than merely falling to the floor. Compare this to the days when the primary washfloor equipment was a scoop and an empty paper bag.
Chemical supply programs are also seeing an evolution to concentrates to reduce the cost of product packaging and transportation. These products may not be as rinsable as a diluted product formulation that’s already dissolved. This attribute can require the copious rinsing of any surface contaminated by an inadvertent spill, splash or exposure.
On the rental launderer’s wash floor, it’s likely there are products with one or more chemical hazard classes, including “Corrosives,” “Flammable and Combustibles,” and “Oxidizers.” Products that have been characterized into these hazard classes have unique handling requirements aside from the personal risks. The manner in which these chemical products are received and stored must be part of the launderer’s safety program.
To prevent accidental release of a liquid chemical product during a spill, many launderers choose to store the drums, totes or day tanks on spill-containment skids. Though not universally mandated by law, the use of such skids is a preventative step toward minimizing the risk of a chemical release.
When using such skids, one must also review the compatibility of other products to be stored there. Drums of incompatible products should be stored on separate pallets to minimize the inadvertent mixing of materials. Specifically, chlorine bleach should never be stored on the same pallet as sour.
Though not assigned a specific hazard class, detergents present the hazard of defatting. Liquid laundry detergents are comprised of surfactants designed to strip away and emulsify both petroleum and food oils. The oils within human skin are similar to these oily soils and will be removed by detergent should there be direct contact, leading to irritation that can range from mild to severe.
This adverse effect from “soap” underscores the requirements to use personal protective equipment (PPE) when working with all chemical containers. At a minimum, protective eyewear and impervious gloves are to be worn anytime one attends to chemical containers or their contents.
Like the shotgun used in hunting, concentrated liquid chemical products used by the textile rental industry have been carefully crafted to be effective tools. But carelessness, lack of preparedness and misuse can result in severe consequences.
By reviewing the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) provided for all chemical formulations and by consulting with the laundry chemical partner, one can implement a series of best practices in the laundry for all personnel having responsibility for these important programs.
Equipment Manufacturing: Kim Shady, UniMac (Alliance Laundry Systems), Ripon, Wis.
While I’ll leave the safe-handling advice to the chemical experts, I think it’s also important to discuss chemical tips to ensure your laundry equipment is kept safe. Laundry chemicals do a terrific job of cleaning when they’re diluted in the proper formula. It’s when the undiluted chemicals come in contact with the washer-extractor and linens that a good thing goes bad.
The biggest tip I can offer is getting the chemical company representative, laundry equipment distributor and laundry manager in one room to discuss wash formulas, programming and quality. Often, solid communication can head off most problems in the laundry or elsewhere.
Laundry managers should watch for chemicals that aren’t completely flushed and then eat away at washer-extractor components, or for a pump and chemical line being installed higher than the machine. The latter situation leads to undiluted chemicals using gravity to drip into the machine, again wearing away at the unit.
To protect your machine from the effects of undiluted chemicals, make sure there is water in the cylinder before chemicals are dispensed. In addition, check that solutions are being dispensed at or below the water line — this prevents linens from coming in direct contact with chemicals.
Likewise, review water temperatures as they relate to the chemicals you’re using. It’s not uncommon for operations to have lower-than-recommended temperatures. With cold water, softener will not dilute properly. Cold water during the bleach cycle will require extending the cycle to be effective. However, using water that is too hot will speed up the process too much.
Again, the best advice on keeping your equipment safe is to have all parties involved communicate their needs and roles within the quality equation.
(Click here for Part 1 of this story.)