Dry cleaners use chemicals, heat, and steam to clean and press clothing and other fabrics. While helping their customers look spotless, dry cleaners need to be aware of their workplace hazards.
The use of chemicals is the primary hazard in a dry cleaner. Almost all dry cleaning is done with perchlorethylene (PERC), a solvent. Inhaling PERC can lead to serious health effects such as liver and kidney damage, dizziness, headache, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness, and death. PERC is also a suspected carcinogen.
To avoid overexposure, use PERC in closed-loop dry cleaning equipment that controls the vapors. Check equipment for leaks and fix them promptly. Keep the lids tightly closed on fresh and waste solvent containers. Maintain good ventilation in areas where PERC is used.
Dry cleaners often use “secret-recipe” stain removers and spot cleaning solutions. These recipes may contain highly concentrated PERC and other unknown chemicals. You have the right to know what chemicals are in the spot cleaner you use and their potential hazards. To avoid dermatitis, a skin-irritation caused by chemical exposure, wear gloves and avoid skin contact with PERC and spot cleaning chemicals.
Fire is another hazard in dry cleaning. PERC has low flammability, but Stoddard solvent, an older dry cleaning solution and sometime spot-cleaning solvent, is very flammable. Store solutions and waste in properly closed containers. Check dry cleaning equipment for leaks and repair them immediately. Keep heating elements clear of clothing and lint so heat does not build up and cause a fire.
Dry cleaners suffer ergonomic injuries at a high rate if they do not use safe work practices. The high volume and fast pace of work can lead to fatigue. Take micro breaks every 20-to-30 minutes. Moving heavy clothing and fabrics requires the use of proper lifting techniques. Folding, pressing, and bagging clothing are repetitive motions. Rotate tasks throughout your day to give your different muscles a break. Try to keep your work at waist level to avoid awkward postures such as reaching and bending.
Watch for pinch and caught/crush injuries when using overhead conveyor systems. Make sure that you and your clothing are clear of the conveyor before activating it. Watch for pinch points on presses and folding machines. Keep an eye on your hands and your mind on your work when you are doing your job.
Dry cleaners are often hot, humid environments, so wear light layers of clothing and drink fluids throughout the day. Watch presses for hot surfaces and steam that can cause burn hazards. Label equipment hot surfaces with warning signs. Water and chemicals can cause spills in the workplace, so clean them up immediately to reduce the chance of a slip, trip, or fall.