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Poor office hygiene costing British economy £13.7 billion

07 February 2014

A report conducted by the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) on behalf of hygiene specialist Initial Washroom Hygiene, has identified that the British economy could save £13.7 billion if office hygiene standards were improved – the monetary equivalent to the construction of 25 major new hospitals or the combined annual wages of 460,000 UK office staff.

In total, poor office hygiene is expected to have reduced UK GDP by 0.8% or £13.7 billion in 2013, due to workers taking time off sick and by affecting their time whilst at work. Sick leave as a result of poor hygiene costs the UK economy £4.2 billion last year. Shockingly £9.5 billion was lost due to the time wasted as a result of poor hygiene, such as queuing for a clean toilet, washing dirty dishes or going further to find a washroom with suitable facilities – all factors that can waste valuable time in workers’ days.


Daniel Solomon, economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research, commented: "This report indicates that for every worker employed, British businesses are throwing £700 down the drain. It’s a general rule that the better you care for something, the better it will perform. The British workforce is no exception. For the majority of businesses, staff represent a significant investment. In failing to create a healthy workplace environment, employers are failing their employees and businesses.”


In addition to the economic costs of staff absenteeism and time wasting, the report also reveals that businesses are compensating for poor workplace hygiene in multiple ways. 39% of office workers in the UK believe improving office hygiene would increase their level of job satisfaction, while the average UK office worker would be willing to sacrifice £130 per annum to ensure their offices are maintained to a higher hygiene standard. If these potential savings are reinvested in making the office a more hygienic environment and helping to change hygiene behaviours in the workplace, employers could see an increase in productivity and efficiency.


Dr. Peter Barratt, technical manager at Initial Washroom Hygiene in the UK, said: "Any business has the opportunity to improve financial performance through providing better hygiene facilities but employers also need to understand their role. Our research has unearthed some shocking hygiene habits in the UK. Almost 1 in 10 (9.8%) of office workers use their mobile in the washroom and nearly 1 in 20 (4.6%) state they will read a work document. These behaviours increase the chance of germs and bacteria spreading throughout the workforce.”


Dr. Barratt continues: "What we need is a two-pronged approach to education and behavioural change – from employees and their employers. If employers invest the money workers would be willing to sacrifice in higher quality hygiene facilities, they would have happier, healthier and more productive workforces. By waking up to the real business benefit of providing hygienic environments, organisations will see demonstrable impact on their business’ bottom lines.”


Initial’s recommendations

Initial recommends employers consider the following five factors to improve hygiene standards across the organisation in commercial environments:


  1. Washrooms :Risk hotspots in the washroom include toilets, flush handles and cubicle handles. Norovirus and bacteria such as Campylobacter can be found in these areas, and both cause gastroenteritis. The germs are transferred from surface to hand. The spread of infection can be minimised with surface and flush sanitisers and toilet cleaners.


  1. Reception / entrance area: Door handles are a risk hotspot in reception and entrance areas, harbouring bacteria which can be transferred by surface to hand and from hand to hand. It can cause skin infections, food poisoning and respiratory diseases. Hand and surface sanitisers will kill germs and help prevent the spread of infection.


  1. Corridors / common areas: High footfall makes corridors and common areas germ hotspots. Scenting products will help control and minimise aromas that might be derived from malodour producing bacteria. Air disinfection units will also help reduce airborne micro organisms.


  1. Desks / meeting rooms: Door handles and desk surfaces are risk hotspots in meeting rooms, harbouring for example Rhinovirus. It is transferred from surface to hands and causes the common cold. Surface sanitisers from Initial can help minimise the spread of germs.


  1. Kitchen area: Food preparation surfaces in kitchens can be home to pathenogenic strains of E.Coli and the Norovirus. It can be transmitted from surface to hand, hand to mouth or by infected food and can cause gastroenteritis and urinary tract infections. Good hand washing and drying products can help to minimise the risk of infection.