World hygiene picture from SCA Hygiene Matters report

20th of March 2015
World hygiene picture from SCA Hygiene Matters report

Where in the world are people most likely to use their workplace washrooms to let off steam, eat, rehearse a presentation or carry out an exercise routine? And which nationality is most likely to shun a gym, public washroom or even dinner at a friend’s house due to concerns about poor hygiene?

Tork manufacturer SCA shares some insights from its latest Hygiene Matters report. 

The world today is often described as a global village. The internet connects all of us and enables us to communicate instantly with people from anywhere else in the world.

But despite this recent globalisation, there are still vast cultural differences from one nation to the next. We differ on everything from music tastes and fashion to leisure pursuits and cuisine.
And as a new study carried out by SCA reveals, even our hygiene habits divide us. People internationally have different perceptions and attitudes about their public washrooms. They have differing opinions about the suitability and accessibility of the toilets at work. And they also display varying levels of anxiety about hygiene in public facilities.

Bizarrely, even the activities that we carry out in the washroom seem to differ from one nation to the next. For example, the latest SCA Hygiene Matters research reveals that 20 per cent of working people in the US are prone to take a break in the workplace washroom in order to vent their frustration. This is almost double the number globally who admit to this practice.

The study also shows that 14 per cent of Chinese employees admit to smoking in the toilets at work, and again this is double the global figure.

In some cases, staff of one gender are more likely to carry out a specific practice than employees of the opposite sex. For instance, 24 per cent of British women claim to have used the washroom at work as a place in which to hold a private conversation compared with 21 per cent of British people in general. It seems that this is a peculiarly British practice since only 10 per cent of respondents globally claim to use the workplace washrooms for a private chat.

A total of 29 per cent of South African women say they sometimes go to the toilets at work to have a cry, whereas only 16 per cent of South Africans of both sexes – and a mere seven per cent of people globally – admit to having done this.

And 12 per cent of British men have a tendency to eat in the washrooms – more than double the number of people worldwide who carry out this unsavoury practice. Meanwhile, 10 per cent of American men – three times the number on a global scale - claim to have carried out an exercise regime in the toilets at work.

Other findings of the study include the fact that three per cent of British people are likely to use the washroom at work to rehearse a presentation. And a surprising four per cent of us in the UK have no qualms about taking a nap in the toilet.

Respondents quizzed

The Hygiene Matters survey is the latest in a series of four SCA studies that have been carried out periodically since 2008 in a bid to highlight and improve hygiene standards globally.

Though commissioned by SCA, the survey was conducted by business intelligence firm United Minds in association with research company Cint. The study was conducted in May 2014 in 13 countries: Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Mexico, The Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States.

Responses from a total of 13,492 respondents – half of whom were women - were compiled via a comprehensive online questionnaire. The study quizzed respondents about their attitudes to personal hygiene, public washrooms and who they feel to be accountable for public hygiene – whether it is the authorities or ourselves the public.

This last question highlighted a clear split between the US and Europe and the rest of the world. Respondents in Europe and the US tended to feel that we should all take personal responsibility for improving hygiene standards, with only 21-35 per cent of them wanting to see hygiene placed higher up the public agenda.

On the other hand, respondents in the rest of the world saw hygiene as a clear responsibility of the authorities.  A total of 82 per cent of Chinese respondents felt that hygiene issues should be given a higher profile by the government and the media. This was closely followed by Brazil with 81 per cent calling for more government input and 77 per cent of South Africans and 74 per cent of Mexicans demanding the same.

Europeans less fearful

However, hygiene in general is a much more pressing concern for these four countries than the others polled in the survey. The study revealed that more than 50 per cent of people in Brazil, Mexico, China and South Africa are either often or always worried about becoming ill due to poor hygiene. Anxiety was greatest in Brazil where a total of 70 per cent of respondents expressed this concern.

European respondents, on the other hand, tended to be much less fearful about becoming ill due to hygiene issues. The Spanish were the most anxious out of eight European countries polled with 36 per cent of respondents expressing concern. On the other hand only 21 per cent of Germans, 19 per cent of British and eight per cent of Swedish respondents worried about hygiene-related illnesses.

Workplace washrooms, however, seemed to be an area in which everyone wanted to see improvements. Nearly one in five employees globally said they were dissatisfied with the standard of washrooms in their workplace, while 49 per cent of the global workforce would like their employer to pay more attention to the standards of the washrooms at work.

Chinese respondents were the most unhappy with their workplace toilets with 84 per cent of them expressing a wish that their employer would pay more attention to these facilities. In the UK the figure was 40 per cent, while 36 per cent of US respondents wanting better toilet provision. Again the Swedish were the happiest with their washrooms, although 31 per cent still called for improvements and 14 per cent of Swedish respondents preferred not to use the toilets at work at all.

Other hygiene concerns outside the workplace washroom varied from nation to nation. For example, South African respondents were more fearful than other nationalities about the hygiene risks involved when eating at another person’s house. Around one in five South Africans admitted that they had refrained from having dinner at someone else’s home due to hygiene concerns, compared with a global figure of only one in 10.

Chinese concerns

A total of 59 per cent of Chinese respondents said that hygiene worries had prompted them to avoid showering or swimming at a particular gym or swimming pool. Again, this figure was much higher than the global result of 25 per cent.

And public washrooms were a major concern among Brazilian respondents with a total of 70 per cent admitting that they had at one time refrained from using a public toilet due to hygiene issues, whereas less than half of all global respondents expressed a similar worry.

Whether these concerns are justified or not is unclear from the report. It could be that Brazilian public washrooms are particularly unsavoury or Chinese gyms are notorious for poor hygiene, but it could also be the case that we simply have different levels of fastidiousness. Though in the end, it hardly matters: what is clear from the report is that our confidence in public hygiene needs to be boosted.

With the spate of high-profile health issues that face us today – Ebola being the latest – it is clear that hygiene is a major concern for all of us, and rightly so. One worrying statistic from the study is the fact that the hospital is considered to be a particularly dangerous place for picking up germs. A total of 54 per cent of UK respondents put hospitals at the top of the danger list, for example, beating public toilets by one percentage point.

So it appears that many of us are unhappy about hygiene standards at work, in public facilities, leisure centres - and even in healthcare environments. So by working together to improve standards and raising the hygiene bar on an international level, we will all help to make the world a healthier place to live.


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