Wash away the winter bugs

20th of December 2017
Wash away the winter bugs

As winter approaches it becomes even more important to stay on top of your hand hygiene practices to avoid catching a nasty bug. Research shows that by improving workplace hygiene it is within an employer’s power to reduce the spread of infection and decrease the number of sick days taken. Dr Peter Barratt at Initial Washroom Hygiene explains.

As the colder months draw near, so does the risk of catching flu, norovirus and other nasty bugs. Viruses are more easily spread in the colder months when the heating tends to be turned on and windows closed, providing the perfect conditions for infections to thrive.

In the workplace viral spread usually is a result of cross contamination, as staff spend their time in communal areas or use shared facilities in the workplace. Germs can pass from person to person through indirect contact with contaminated surfaces which they are regularly touching, such as shared objects like remote controls, door handles and communal kitchen facilities like kettles and fridge door handles. Any object multiple people touch can potentially become a hot spot for germ accumulation and distribution.

By encouraging employees to make simple changes to their personal hygiene habits, businesses can hugely improve their chances of staying bug-free during the winter. In addition to helping limit the spread of infection across the office, protect employee health and improve workplace morale, they could also improve the productivity of the workforce.

Research has shown that office workers’ hands come into contact with more than 10 million bacteria on a typical day , many of which can stay alive on the skin for up to three hours which increases the risk of cross contamination. On top of that, our own research has shed light on the strange toilet behaviour of office workers across the UK  which further heightens this contamination risk.

Nationally, almost a quarter (22 per cent) of UK office workers ‘hot desk,’ sharing unassigned work stations interchangeably with their colleagues, and half admit to using their phone in the office washroom, with over half (54 per cent) consuming lunch at their desk. It’s therefore hardly surprising  offices and other multipurpose buildings provide a welcoming home to bacteria and the nasty illnesses which follow.

Office workers’ use of smart phones has also come under the microscope. Browsing social media sites has become a favourite toilet activity, with 40 per cent of European workers admitting to taking their phone into the toilet with them to browse Facebook and Twitter. Whilst 83 per cent of office workers claim to always wash their hands after visiting the office washroom, it’s very unlikely that they will also wash their phones. This is a concern, as 80 per cent of viruses can be transmitted through physical contact and the flu virus can live on hard surfaces, like phones, for up to 24 hours .

The power of thorough hand washing as a weapon against infection and sickness should not be underestimated. It is a simple yet fundamental measure and goes a long way to improving hygiene levels.

Six steps to hygiene

Frequent hand washing can decrease the bacteria present on hands by 80 per cent and reduce the risk of illness by up to 50 per cent, particularly common illnesses like diarrhoea and colds. Needless to say, good hand hygiene can reduce the total volume of staff sick leave and help keep employees healthy. In other words, it makes perfect sense to promote good hand hygiene amongst employees through six simple and effective steps:

1. Wet your hands using clean, running water – preferably warm water – and apply soap - if possible using a no-touch dispenser - to avoid cross contamination.

2. Rub soap all over your hands: take care to cover the front, back, fingers, thumbs and nails.

3. Scrub your hands all over by rubbing them together for roughly 30 seconds. Singing ‘happy birthday’ twice from beginning to end is a good time guide.

4. Rinse your hands with clean running water, until the soap has disappeared.

5. Dry your hands. Drying your hands thoroughly in the correct way is the final important step in the hand washing process, but it often gets ignored or overshadowed by a rushed departure. Damp hands spread 1,000 times more bacteria than dry hands, so the door handle of the washroom is likely to become contaminated if drying is missed.

6. Sanitise. Employees and visitors should be encouraged to take a proactive approach to hand hygiene at all times, even when not in the washroom, and this can be helped by making sure hand sanitiser dispensers are always available. Hand sanitisers are best used after thorough hand washing and drying.

Staff should be instructed to always wash their hands and use sanitiser in the following situations:

• Before and after eating or preparing food, especially in shared kitchen facilities
• When treating any cut or graze
• When caring for an ill person
• After using or assisting washroom use
• After blowing their nose
• After handling any refuse or rubbish.

Healthy workers are productive workers, so it’s business-savvy to encourage good hygiene amongst employees. The annual cost of sickness absence is estimated to cost UK employers around €32 billion, and a third of employers have reported an increase in people coming into work whilst sick. Managers should be encouraging staff to stay at home when ill, particularly if they’re showing symptoms of highly contagious diseases.

Follow these top tips to ensure a healthy environment this winter:

1. Promote good hygiene standards. Colourful posters and reminders about the benefits of good hand hygiene serve as a constant reminder. Hand sanitisers should be deployed in various places around the building, such as by doors, the kitchen, and water stations. Non-alcohol based sanitisers are the most effective.

2. Consider logistics. Door handles and other common touch-points can be hotbeds for germs, particularly in reception and entrance areas. Hand sanitisers should be stationed nearby, but if possible sensor-activated doors should be used.

3. Desk hygiene. Provide employees with anti-bacterial wipes and encourage a clean desk policy, particularly when it comes to food waste and tissues. Ensure cleaners are attending to the desk areas thoroughly. The average computer mouse is home to more than three times the levels of bacteria-related contamination than the average toilet seat, and twice as many as on a toilet flush handle .

4. Clean the air. High footfall, communal areas are prime germ hotspots. Scenting products can help control and minimise aromas that might come from malodour-producing bacteria, but more importantly, air disinfection units will also help reduce airborne microorganisms being inhaled by unsuspecting victims.

5. Strong sick leave policy. Anyone suffering from a virus should stay at home for at least 48 hours after their symptoms have disappeared, and this should be encouraged from the top. After all, it’s in the best interest of business – as the spread of infections to the wider workforce doesn’t help anyone.

6. Deep clean. Daily cleaning routines are important but they won’t eliminate the gradual accumulation of grease, dust, and pathogenic bacteria on less accessible surfaces such as walls, ceilings, lights and kitchen fittings. Air ducts in busy buildings can be particularly dangerous if not frequently attended to, accumulating bacteria which can contaminate food, and grease which can increase the risk and spread of fire. Facilities should receive an intensive deep clean at least twice a year.

Taking into account the number of surfaces and objects vulnerable to cross contamination in communal facilities, it’s absolutely critical businesses promote good hand hygiene amongst employees and visitors, both through hand washing and the use of hand sanitisers throughout the building. By enforcing hand hygiene practices and taking a little extra care managers can go a long way to protecting their staff and business this winter.


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