According to research by VitalityHealth, workers lose 30.4 days a year on average due to sick leave or underperformance at work. In fact, it is thought that the pressure of workers to remain in work while sick could be putting an even bigger strain upon productivity than absenteeism. Even with spring looking like a positive time for businesses regarding Covid restrictions and case numbers and the summer potentially even better, this is still not a time to be complacent regarding our workplace hygiene.
Although solutions for good mental health and any long-term serious health conditions are not always a quick or easy fix, maintaining a clean and hygienic work space can be surprisingly effective. The simplest changes around the workplace have the capacity to prevent some issues before they can take hold.
Most office spaces have a shared working environment, in which people are in close contact with one another on a regular basis. Unfortunately, 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted through touch, which may prove tricky for those sharing desks and equipment all day long. We’re all a little wary of sitting or standing too close to others thanks to recent experiences and many offices will still be continuing to socially distance. But what happens once restrictions are one day completely lifted? There are still ways in which we can prevent the spread of disease, whether it’s Covid or just the common cold.
In places where ‘hot desking’ (the practice of not allocating an individual their own desk, but rotating staff based on shift patterns) is becoming more popular, the risk of transmitting germs simply through desks, keyboards and mice is greater than ever. This practice is less and less common under current circumstances, but it’s likely that you may wish to return to this style of work once it becomes safe to do so. However, it is important to make sure that desks are at least wiped or cleaned with a disinfectant in between shift changes.
Considering that the average office desk contains 400 times more germs than a toilet seat, it is important to take steps in ensuring that a high standard of cleanliness is maintained at all times. Naturally, any food residue is a breeding ground for bacteria, especially if dirty dishes or cutlery are left lying around long after they are finished with.
To ensure better work desk hygiene, companies could attempt to accommodate a separate eating area, reducing the possibility of food residue and drink spills at desks. For offices in which this may not be structurally or financially possible, implementing a ‘washing up’ policy will eliminate dirty utensils cluttering up common workspaces and risking bacteria transmission.
Speaking of toilets, workplace toilets rank pretty high on the list of complaints made by disgruntled employees. In fact, surveys suggest that over half of employees were appalled by the conditions of their workplace toilets at least once within a six month period. 1 in 10 employees have said that they would even go as far as to avoid their workplace toilets altogether.
Because almost all places of work will have access to some kind of toilet facilities – whether it be in an office, a retail space or in a restaurant or bar – the staff bathrooms are a place where better hygiene can be universally implemented. Not everyone may work at a desk, but everyone can catch germs from a dirty bathroom.
Inside the stall
For companies that have a bathroom redesign in mind, it might be worthwhile to invest in self-flushing toilets. Not only do they use far less water (giving your company eco-friendly brownie points), but they can also reduce the amount of germs that can be transferred from a flush handle.
It’s thought that much of the bacteria found on flush handles comes from flushing a toilet with an open lid. With any potential splashback from the toilet bowl, the toilet flush can be contaminated 22% of the time.
However, even if every employee learns to flush the toilet with the lid down, they are still spreading germs to the handle, and potentially onwards from there. Cutting out the need for a flush handle is a simple and modern way to help improve bathroom hygiene.
Door handles are another redesign that could greatly improve hygiene, either in the bathroom stall or on the exit door. Once again, we touch many things in between using a toilet and making it to the sink, and the stall handle is no different. By installing handles made from copper-containing metals such as brass, which is naturally ‘self cleaning’, employees no longer have to attempt an acrobatic display of opening locks and doors with their elbows. The antibacterial properties of these materials could be a small way to help prevent the spreading of germs.
How clean is your soap dispenser?
The bad news is that the majority of refillable soap dispensers are extremely dirty. There are many reasons for this, whether it be airborne bacteria particles landing in a dispenser during cleaning, or the person responsible for refilling the container having not washed their hands after cleaning the toilets.
In areas that see a high volume of people, refillable dispensers may also not be thoroughly cleaned before refilling, often due to time constraints. Whatever the reason, it’s been found that washing your hands using a refillable soap dispenser could make your hands even dirtier than before you washed them.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. By installing sealed soap dispensers, facilities managers can help improve washroom conditions significantly. Soap cartridges are inserted and removed without ever being actually opened and exposed to the air. Although soap cartridges are a slightly pricier option than their refillable counterparts, preventing employee absenteeism and increasing productivity could be worth the investment in the long run.
Remember to wash your hands!
Improvements to washrooms are of less use, however, if no one is washing their hands. Despite knowing the general risks of transmitting bacteria, people still tend to skip out on washing their hands, for any number of reasons. In a recent poll, the biggest excuses included there being a queue at the sink or hand dryer (28%), a dirty sink (24%), a bad smell (17%) or a lack of soap (10%).
Micromanaging employees’ hand-washing habits is, of course, absurd. By creating a bigger awareness of bathroom hygiene in the workplace, however, or even putting up signs that remind employees to wash their hands,workers can be encouraged to get into the habit of washing their hands after every trip.
Going old school
Many people are still unaware that the hand drying process can transmit bacteria even after you’ve washed your hands. The biggest issues are people either not washing their hands properly or not washing their hands for long enough.
When using air dryers, any bacteria left on someone’s hands can be spread via airflow. Jet dryers, although quick and efficient for the user, are the biggest culprit in this case, removing water through force (dispersing it in different directions at speeds of around 370 mph), propelling bacteria through the air.
In the age of smart technology ruling everything, it seems counterintuitive that a manual method could actually be better for us. But recent research has conclusively shown that paper towels are simply far more hygienic than any electric dryer. Not only do they not help to spread any leftover bacteria on the hands, but they can even help to remove any bacteria that may not have been removed during the handwashing process. And unlike sealed soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers are far less costly to install than electric dryers.
Keeping up with the standards
It is understandable that not every workplace will have the means to purchase new equipment or redesign their washrooms in order to prevent workplace sickness. However, keeping a high standard of cleanliness in workplace toilets can still go a long way to preventing the spreading of germs. It is important to make sure that all supplies, such as toilet paper, soap, and paper towels, are monitored and restocked as soon as necessary. This will prevent people turning to alternative methods, or simply not washing their hands in the first place.
Rubbish is another way in which bacteria can thrive, especially if it has not been emptied for a while. Bathroom bins must be emptied every day, and sanitary waste must be emptied according to legal requirements, as this will reduce the risk of germs being transmitted.
Disinfecting germ ‘hot spots’ regularly is vital in killing bacteria before it has a chance to spread. Ensuring that door handles, dispensers, taps, urinals, light switches and surfaces are wiped and cleaned at least once a day can also make a big difference to a workplace washroom. Not only does it create a more hygenic experience, but it makes the environment far more pleasant and welcoming for employees. This will hopefully encourage people to wash their hands correctly after using the facilities, and further prevent the spreading of bacteria.
Spread awareness, not germs
Creating a perfectly hygienic environment in the workplace is not easy, especially in places where there is a high staff volume or staff turnover. Creating cleaner and more hygienic facilities is a key step, but managers should also look to spread awareness amongst their staff.
It is possible that the average office user is not aware of how dirty their computer keyboard actually is, or the benefits of proper bathroom hygiene. At the end of the day, no one likes being sick at work, and by helping staff members understand how and why germs spread around the workplace, employees can also take their own initiative in preventing absenteeism.
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