Using caustic cleaners

Caustic cleaners are cleaning products that contain highly alkaline and corrosive caustic chemicals. Contact can cause serious injuries, including blindness.


What are caustic cleaners?

Caustic cleaners are cleaning products that contain highly alkaline and corrosive caustic chemicals. Caustic cleaners are common in a range of industries, including food, hospitality, health and metal cleaning. The most common caustic chemicals are liquids containing either sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, both hazardous substances.

Caustic chemicals can cause severe chemical burns to the eyes and skin, depending on the chemicals' concentration. Eye contact with caustic chemicals can cause permanent damage, including blindness.

Reducing risks in the workplace

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations), an employer must, so far as is reasonably practicable, eliminate any risk associated with hazardous substances at their workplace. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, the employer must reduce the risk so far as is reasonably practicable. As an employer, you can control risks from caustic chemicals by:

  • eliminating the use of the chemicals by using a scourer, hot water and mild detergent
  • using a safer chemical that is not corrosive
  • using a more diluted form of the chemical
  • using a safer form of the chemical, for example foam instead of spray
  • changing processes or work practises, for example cleaning more frequently, so the items are not as heavily contaminated and therefore a milder chemical can be used
  • using an automatic dispensing/diluting unit to minimise handling of concentrated caustic cleaners
  • fitting a dispenser or pouring device to the chemical containers
  • purchasing chemicals in smaller containers that are easier to pour
  • preventing splashing from large tanks of chemicals by installing splash shields or keeping employees further away from the chemicals
  • placing lids or caps on containers of caustic cleaners
  • using protective clothing and equipment such as gloves and eye protection – refer to the product’s safety data sheet (SDS)
  • providing an appropriate plumbed-in emergency washing facility

Review risk controls

As an employer, you have a duty under the OHS Regulations to review and, if necessary, revise any risk controls associated with hazardous substances, including caustic cleaners. You must review and revise risk controls:

  • before any alteration that is likely to change the risks associated with hazardous substances at the workplace
  • if you receive advice from a registered medical practitioner that an employee has suffered health problems
  • after any incident to which Part 5 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 applies
  • if, for any other reason, the risk control measures do not adequately control the risks
  • after receiving a request from a health and safety representative

Information and training

Employees should understand the hazards of using caustic cleaners and be fully informed and trained in their safe use. As an employer, you must make sure:

  • employees are provided with any necessary information, instruction and training to enable them to perform their work safely, for example, emergency and first aid procedures
  • current SDSs for the cleaning products are available and accessible to employees
  • containers in which hazardous substances are supplied are labelled with the manufacturer’s or importer’s label
  • decanted products and containers of waste are appropriately labelled or identified

First aid and emergency facilities

Eye contact with caustic chemicals requires immediate treatment to minimise the risk of permanent eye damage and possible loss of sight.

An emergency eye-wash should be provided close to where the caustic chemicals are used, particularly products containing 2% or more of potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide.

An eyewash bottle:

  • should not be relied on as the main or primary emergency eyewash
  • should only be used for immediate flushing until the injured person can get to a plumbed-in eyewash where they can flush for at least 15 minutes. Seek immediate medical advice

A combination eyewash and shower facility should be provided where there is a potential for large or whole body splashes of concentrated solutions.

Emergency eyewash and shower equipment should meet the Australian Standard AS4755 – 2007 Emergency eyewash and shower equipment.

WorkSafe Advisory Service

WorkSafe's advisory service is available between 7:30am and 6:30pm Monday to Friday. If you need more support, you can also contact WorkSafe using the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) or the National Relay Service.

1800 136 089 More contact options

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