Say goodbye to germs in the workplace
16 October 2013
As we approach the season of coughs and colds, employers are bracing themselves for the annual bout of working days lost through illness. But can they do more to help prevent the risk of infections spreading? Suzanne De Maine, European marketing manager for GOJO Europe, explains how good hand hygiene is a simple and effective way to boost the well-being of workers.
Christmas comes just once a year, but infections in the workplace can, unfortunately, make multiple appearances, especially in autumn and winter. As the nights draw in and central heating systems are turned up, the opportunities increase for bugs and viruses to spread. According to ‘Fit for purpose’, the CBI’s absence and workplace health survey 2013, the direct cost of absenteeism in the workplace to the UK economy in 2012 was £14bn. These figures show a decrease of £3bn on 2011, which is a move in the right direction, but it is still a significant amount of money to lose in what remains a challenging economic climate.
The main culprits
The ‘common’ cold is something with which we are all familiar, with most adults catching between two and four of them a year. This mild, viral infection of the nose, throat, sinuses and upper airways can cause a blocked/runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat and a cough. Flu is a much more serious matter. It is caused by a different group of viruses to those that cause ‘standard’ colds, and the symptoms tend to be more severe, as well as lasting for longer. Influenza (most commonly referred to as flu) is an acute viral infection of the respiratory tract, characterised by the onset of fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint pain, and fatigue. Other symptoms can include a cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and diarrhoea.
How infections spread
Flu and colds are passed from person to person through droplets created when someone with the infection sneezes or coughs. It can also be spread through contact with surfaces on which the virus has been deposited – making hand hygiene even more important.
Your desktop is also a place where germs thrive. In his unpublished observational study: ‘Germs in the Workplace’, Dr Charles Gerba, a microbiologist from the University of Arizona, made some unsettling discoveries. In the workplaces he studied he found that:
- The average telephone harboured 3,895 germs per sq.cm.
- The average desktop harboured 3,249 germs per sq.cm.
- The average computer keyboard harboured 511 germs per sq.cm.
This makes for pretty uncomfortable reading, especially when you learn that the average toilet seat harbours just eight germs per sq.cm.
What prevents good hand hygiene in the workplace?
A number of factors can play a part in preventing effective hand hygiene in the workplace. These include:
- Hand hygiene products not situated in convenient or key locations – this can be remedied by siting dispensers at ‘critical points’ such as kitchen areas or the entrances and exits to manufacturing or processing spaces
- Employees have to leave their desks to remove germs from their hands – hand sanitisers are a good alternative when there is not time to properly wash hands, or if hands are only lightly soiled. They also come in handy pump bottles that are perfect for desktops
- Lack of education within the workplace of the risk of infection spreading through not washing hands – look for reputable, specialist hand hygiene system suppliers, who will be able to help you communicate through specially-designed posters and other support
Good hand hygiene can play a crucial role in helping to reduce the spread of infections in the workplace. By ensuring employees have access to the right hand hygiene products, which provide effective results with skincare benefits, employers can take a significant step towards minimising workplace absenteeism.