A healthy and happy workforce

16th of September 2011
A healthy and happy workforce

A hygienic workplace means a healthier and happier workforce, with lower absenteeism due to illness and higher productivity. Hartley Milner explores how the cleaning industry is promoting this message to office and facility managers.

The telephone – probably no means of communication has done more to revolutionise office life. Unfortunately, it is also a great communicator for less welcome entities that are keen to get in contact with us.

Phones are the dirtiest items of equipment in the average office, putting you in touch with up to 25,127 germs per square inch lurking in the mouthpiece.

“Right then, I will just have to use email more often,” may be your response. Sorry, there’s no escape – a computer keyboard can host as many as 3,295 bacteria per six square cms and a mouse 1,676 per six square cms.

The typical office desk is a playground for over 10 million of these little bugs and is 400 times more contaminated than a lavatory seat. An unguarded sneeze can propel cold or flu viruses at 150km per hour, to a distance of almost two metres. And other nasties can lead to headline-making outbreaks of hepatitis A, salmonella, dysentery, cryptosporidiosis and Legionnaires’ disease.

These are some of the less pleasant realities of office life that organisations concerned with health and safety are striving to get over in their drive to convince more businesses about the benefits of implementing good hygiene practices at their sites.

Dr Kathryn Bellamy, senior policy and technical adviser at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, said: “Maintaining a clean, tidy and hygienic workplace has benefits for all, making any environment more enjoyable and safe to be in – boosting morale and the productivity of staff. If managers promote a clean and tidy workplace, employees are often empowered to follow suit. Clearly, working in a clean environment is a great deal more pleasant than in an untidy, dirty one.

“Improved hygiene can help to reduce infections and, therefore, absenteeism. Keeping a clean and tidy showroom or office space also does a great deal for a company’s reputation. If your workplace is clean and tidy and customers or potential clients are visiting, you are portraying a positive image of your workplace values.

“For example, if a client walks in and notices that the reception area is dusty and the waiting room is full of old magazines and newspapers, chances are they have already made a negative judgement about your business. But if it smells fresh, has today's paper and is kept clean and tidy, their experience with your business is already a much more positive one.”

Personal protection and hygiene products supplier Kimberly-Clark Professional has launched the Healthy Workplace Project, showing how taking a few simple steps, such as tackling poor hand hygiene habits, can help eradicate harmful germs and cut absenteeism while raising staff satisfaction and productivity levels.

Costly absenteeism

Absenteeism is estimated to cost more than 800 euros per employee each year in the UK alone. A recent study involving office workers at FedEx found that the use of a hand sanitiser and simple education programme reduced absenteeism by 21 per cent.

The Healthy Workplace Project offers advice and practical support to enable companies to install the best hygiene systems around the workplace and, most importantly, inspire staff to use them regularly. The programme is being rolled out in the UK following a successful launch in the US and at Kimberly-Clark’s own sites across Europe.

Businesses that sign up are offered a comprehensive assessment of their whole working environment, from reception desks to individual workstations. Following a visit, the team makes tailored recommendations on where to place products such as hand sanitisers and desk wipes. Companies receive an engagement activation pack comprising stickers, posters and other material carrying messages about good hygiene.

“The materials in the pack have been carefully designed to attract the attention of employees and encourage them to use the hygiene products made available by their employer, helping to achieve a long-term positive change in their behaviour,” said Richard Millard, EMEA office building segment manager at Kimberly-Clark.

“We believe the Healthy Workplace Project could also help businesses demonstrate to their employees that they genuinely care about their welfare, which is an important step towards helping staff feel their employer is a good company to work for.”

A Healthy Workplace team recently ran an assessment at the London head office of personal protection equipment provider Greenham – with some startling findings.

Greenham purchasing director Glenn Miller explained: “We did have some anti-bacteria equipment within the business and are aware of the need for good hygiene, but what the launch event was all about was actually having people experience a clean desk environment, a clean mobile phone environment and the level of bacteria that was present on their keyboard or desk phones.

“We had never monitored the amount of bacteria before and people became quite alarmed by the level of germs present on their desks and phones – and knowing they were taking that bacteria home. Some other worrying scores were recorded on door handles, especially in the men's toilet. The toilets were one of the areas where it was shown you should be careful. It was brought home to us that it is vital everyone who uses the toilets should wash their hands afterwards.”

The visiting team took swab samples at specific locations, mainly workstations, to test for adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule found in animals, plants and food particles that harbours and grows bacteria. The level of ATP on the swab is measured and compared to the following criteria – 1-10 the area is perfectly clean, 0-30 it is clean enough, 30 and above the area is a hot spot and measures need to be taken.

A mobile phone was found to be the worst offender with a reading of 1,419, but just 62 when treated with a sanitising wipe. The lowest for a mobile was 12.

Employees were advised to use the sanitising wipers and hand sanitisers that were located at contamination hot spots and were also issued with individual anti-bac packs. They were also cautioned against ‘snacking’ at their workstation. The company now has bacteria monitoring equipment on every floor and plans to roll out the measures to all its 23 branches.

“We expect to see a benefit from these measures within the next 12 months, but I can definitely see a change in behaviour already – people have the got anti-bacs in their desks and have their little sprays, which they carry in their handbags or in their cars,” added Miller.

Skin hygiene specialist GOJO offers solutions through its Workplace Wellness programmes and toolkit, which are tailored to meet the needs of a range of markets, including the healthcare, manufacturing, education and leisure sectors. These combine products, dispensing technology and science-based education programmes encouraging healthy skin care behaviour, supported by employee-targeted posters and a simple guide to effective hand hygiene – all measures the company has introduced at its own sites.

Plus its team of experts trains employers in good hygiene practices that are then passed on to staff. They adopt a ‘day in the life’ approach towards identifying skincare needs or compliance issues and guidance is offered to help identify potential hazards, such as those associated with open refillable soap dispensers.

“Hand washing is an effective method to stop the spread of germs, but may not be the most convenient,” explained Mike Sullivan, managing director of GOJO Industries Europe. “Today’s employees are working longer hours and taking less breaks, which is compromising good hand hygiene. According to a collaborative study by the American Society for Microbiology and the Soap Detergent Association, one in four people do not wash their hands before they leave toilet areas.

Trigger good behaviour

“Easy access to desktop sanitisers is needed for busy workers who don’t have time to wash their hands frequently during the day.”

Following its success in the States, GOJO has now launched PURELL Perfect Placement in Europe, a concept aimed at optimising the position of hand sanitiser dispensers in the workplace. This involves placing dispensers on walls by washroom exits between 90 cms and 1.1 metres above the floor – the perfect height to trigger good hand hygiene behaviour and prevent the transmission of germs from door handles.

And the company has designed a compliance system with a range of colour-coded dispensers in a bid to help prevent foodborne outbreaks, which led to 4,356 hospital admissions and 46 deaths across the 27 EU member states in 2009. Colours and visuals are used to distinguish soap and hand sanitiser dispensers, along with posters explaining their use. “Colour coding helps to avoid misuse of hygiene products and as a result reduces the risk of cross-contamination,” said Sullivan.

“Our new programme has been launched with quick and clear messaging which will help educate workers in an industry where current labelling and language used may not be easy to translate or understand.”

While the cleaning industry is keen to promote the benefits of best hygiene practice against just basic cleaning, getting the message over to target markets can be a challenge, explained Andreas Lill, director general of the European Federation of Cleaning Industries (EFCI).

“In hospitals, it is understood you have to have the highest quality of hygiene possible, clean wards etc, because they have ill people with special requirements,” he said. “But in a building with only offices it is not so common that a client will ask for higher standards in terms of hygiene, even if they should do.

“Most cleaning contractors and product manufacturers have a special knowledge of fighting against hygiene problems. Unfortunately, all this knowledge cannot really be delivered because for the highest standards you have to pay more and most employers are not willing to pay this price, especially in these austere times when the trend is to cut costs, not increase them.

“The price can be relative, however, because if you pay for a better product you may save money in the long term because you reduce the level of germs in the workplace – and, therefore, absenteeism due to infections.”


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