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World at work: Cleaners
  1. J P Zock
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr J P Zock
 Respiratory and Environmental Health Research Unit, Municipal Institute of Medical Research (IMIM), Dr Aiguader 80, E-08003 Barcelona, Spain;

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Multiple occupational hazards in a large service sector

Professional cleaning is a basic service occupation that is carried out worldwide in many different environments, both indoors and outdoors. Cleaning workers form an important proportion of the total working population; for instance 3% in the USA, 4% in Finland,1 and 10% of the female working population in Spain.2 Cleaners often have low occupational skills and belong to the less advantaged educational and socioeconomic groups.3,4 There are a number of important differences in the organisation of cleaning jobs between geographical areas and their prevailing cultures, which are related to differences in work conditions and hence occupational hazards. In many countries cleaning work is predominantly done by women, with a relatively high proportion of older women.4 Immigrants constitute another major group doing cleaning work in many industrialised areas. Cleaners may be employed by private cleaning companies and sent out to clean buildings of various contractors, which may result in dispersed workplaces. An important number of cleaners are employed in the informal sector, particularly those in cleaning private homes,2 but also in cleaning bars, schools, and other places. This is often characterised by precarious employment, often part-time. The related low social and legal protection results in payment on an hourly basis without proper contracts or insurance. Taking into account all these particular characteristics, cleaners are likely to escape from control such as regulations, health surveillance, and risk prevention. The purpose of this paper is to provide a concise overview of the most common occupational hazards in cleaning work, and to discuss possibilities to improve control and prevention.


The main goals of cleaning are to maintain functionality, appearance, and appropriate hygienic conditions of buildings and public places outdoors. This may result in a wide variety of work tasks of …

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  • Competing interests: none declared