Charlie Betteridge of Christeyns makes a worrying point in this month’s feature on laundry chemicals. He told LCN: “It is very important that laundry personnel are aware of the risks involved with handling these chemicals, especially with liquid products. Health and safety data is printed on all packaging and the necessary symbols are displayed. But this is unfortunately ignored or not understood.” Given the potential dangers of handling and using these chemicals, such a blasé attitude to safety is completely unacceptable. Everyone that works in a laundry should have explained to them what symbols on drums mean, what the data sheets say and what they must do if the worst happen. And that’s just the start.

Drycleaners have come in for criticism too. In November last year LCN reported that the Health & Safety Executive found safety regimes were too often rudimentary and most employees thought chemicals they used represented no risk. Managers were little better, relying too heavily on their suppliers.

According to Colin Stubbs of DiverseyLever, laundries – and their detergent suppliers – have allowed the industry to become “deskilled” through the introduction of “hands-off” systems. “[We] have taken away the need to really think about what happens in a process,” he said. Training and education, as a consequence, is now a major priority for for all chemicals suppliers – whether it’s by formal instruction or regular visits from informed and helpful service technicians.

Speak to the Health & Safety Executive, however, and you’ll discover that its inspectors are quite clear about who they consider has responsibility for safety. The HSE has just published a report that will provide background information for proposed legislation requiring employers to investigate the causes of work-related accidents and ill health.

Karen Clayton of HSE’s Operations Unit said: “Prime responsibility for accidents lies with dutyholders, primarily employers… Dutyholders cannot rely on someone else to investigate; they must understand why events happened, and act to make sure they don’t happen again.” What’s needed is a responsible approach to using and handling chemicals. As Colin Stubbs put it, we need to “reintroduce the skill to make everyone understand what we are doing and why”.