At first glance, custodial work may appear to be a low-stress and laid-back occupation. Many cleaners find that the work is not overly demanding in physical terms – it just requires diligence and thoroughness. Custodial work performed in office buildings is rarely dangerous. Often, cleaners work in the evening after other workers have gone home and many cleaners work with minimal supervision.
But people working in the cleaning occupations do face hazards, including exposure to cleaning chemicals, mold, and fungus. Regular exposure to these substances may lead to deadly lung and heart diseases.
A new study shines a light on the health risks faced by cleaners
A recent study performed by researchers at a Belgian university came to some startling conclusions. The study, published in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, compared mortality rates for cleaners to those of non-manual workers over the 20-year period from 1991 to 2011. The data collected in the study was adjusted to account for educational levels, smoking, age, part-time working status, and marital status.
The researchers found that people working in cleaning occupations experienced significantly higher mortality rates due to lung cancer, COPD, pneumonia, ischaemic heart diseases, and cerebrovascular diseases than non-manual workers.
The overall mortality rate for male cleaners was 45 percent higher than that for non-manual workers. Female cleaners had a 16 percent higher mortality rate than non-manual workers.
Why are cleaners at risk for lung and pulmonary diseases?
The authors of the study note its limitations but their conclusions indicate the need for further research to determine with certainty exactly why cleaners face higher risks for lung and heart disease. The note these findings by other researchers:
- Chlorinated solvents such as those found in some cleaning liquids may pose a risk for lung cancer.
- Noxious particles and gases in some cleaning chemicals may lead to COPD.
- Use of disinfectants may cause respiratory problems.
- Some studies have shown a link between cleaning chemicals and occupational asthma.
- Exposure to the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus may explain the higher pneumonia rate among cleaners.
If you suffer from a work-related illness, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. You may want to speak with an attorney if you have questions about filing a claim.