Stephen Ashkin 2019

6 Key Industrial Hygiene Concepts Custodians Need to Know

May 20, 2020
Helping custodians understand some basic concepts will increase their compliance and helps develop their professionalism.

It is common these days to tell custodians to wear personal protective equipment and wash their hands, but it is often done as a directive without explanation why these are important. Helping custodians understand some basic concepts will increase their compliance and helps develop their professionalism.

Hazard and Risk

Hazard is the potential for harm to happen. Examples of hazards include pathogens like the n-coronavirus or driving a car at high speed during inclement weather. Each can lead to death or serious injury.

Risk on the other hand is the likelihood for harm to happen. For example, sharks are extremely hazardous with 140 shark attacks in 2019. While sharks are hazardous, the risk or likelihood of getting eaten by a great white is extremely low.

Thus, one of the key lessons to be learned is that hazards are extremely important to know, but custodians also need to know the risk of harm actually happening.


Controls are the things we can put in place to reduce risk. Examples of controls include wearing personal protective equipment, swimming inside a steel-barred cage to keep sharks away and driving more slowly and turning on windshield wipers when driving in inclement weather. Controls are the things that can be done to reduce the risk that harm will happen.

Understanding hazards, risks and controls is precisely the reason we can work in hazardous situations such as cleaning our schools during the coronavirus while reducing the risk of harm to health.

Routes of Exposure

There are four basic ways to be affected by a hazard. These are inhalation (breathing), ingestion (eating or drinking), absorption (skin contact) and injection (literally injecting it into the body). It is important to understand how custodians are exposed to a specific hazard because this identifies the personal protective equipment (controls) appropriate to reduce the risk of harm.

Relative to the coronavirus, the primary route of exposure is inhalation. This is why CDC recommends using face coverings to reduce the risk of harm from the virus. Whereas a floor stripping solution’s biggest route of exposure is from skin contact as a high pH floor stripper can leave a custodian’s skin and eyes permanently damaged. Thus, controls for a floor stripper includes using personal protective equipment such as appropriate shoes, aprons, long-sleeved shirts, gloves and goggles.

Dose Makes the Poison

Dose is the quantity or amount of the hazard combined with the length of time by which a custodian or other is exposed. This concept is important for two reasons.

The first is that it helps us understand the importance of ventilation. While the hazard remains high, but by increasing ventilation or spending less time in a space, the risk of harm can be reduced.

It is also important to understand that some things like those that are carcinogenic (cause cancer) or bioaccumulate (at low doses they may not cause harm, but these compounds do not go away and continue to build-up in the body until harm results) should be avoided altogether which is one of the reasons that green cleaning chemicals are recommended.

People Differ

The final issue is that people differ. For example, people with health issues such as a compromised immune system due to cancer treatments, respiratory issues such as asthma, woman who are pregnant or nursing babies, elderly staff members, and others may be more at risk compared to an otherwise healthy 40-year-old.

Controls and other measures can be put in place to reduce the risk of harm to custodians and others, and also increase the compliance through understanding why personal protective equipment, ventilation and other related issues are important to protecting health during COVID-19.

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