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Four hand hygiene failures that could make your office sick

12 October 2017

To mark Global Handwashing Day on 15th October, hygiene expert Initial Washroom Hygiene has called on Britons to prevent the spread of common illnesses such as colds, influenza and norovirus by improving their hand hygiene.

A single bacterium has the capacity to multiply into more than eight million cells in less than 12 hours if conditions are right. It is also estimated that the typical office worker’s hands come into contact with 10 million bacteria per day simply through every day activities. So the power of thorough handwashing as a weapon against infection and sickness should not be underestimated. Proper handwashing can decrease the bacteria present on hands by 80% and reduce the risk of illness by up to 50%.

Analysis from PWC found that UK office workers take an average of nine sick days per year, costing the economy £29 billion. Initial Washroom Hygiene has identified four common ‘hand hygiene failures’ many office workers make, which if addressed, could help prevent the spread of viruses in offices.

Four of the most damaging hand hygiene failures:

  1. Failing to wash hands: anonymous monitoring of 100,000 people across Europe by Initial Washroom Hygiene revealed that only 38% of men and 60% of women wash their hands after going to the toilet.
  1. Not washing hands for long enough: To minimise the spread of bacteria and illness, hands should be washed thoroughly for 20–30 seconds using soap and water, and then dried properly. A survey of 1,000 office workers by Initial Washroom Hygiene found that only 31% claim to wash their hands for more than 20 seconds every time.
  1. Using a phone on the loo: Initial’s survey also found that a third (32%) of UK workers use their smartphones while in the office washroom. Even if they wash their hands after their washroom visit, the chances are they don’t sanitise their phone – meaning the device could be contributing to the spread of bacteria by cross contamination.
  1. Neglecting to clean shared equipment while hot-desking: A swabbing study conducted by Initial Washroom Hygiene earlier this year revealed that on average, the level of microbiological activity is 18% higher on hot-desking workstations than of those in a fixed-desk environment. The use of communal computer mice in the hot-desk scenario was a key contributor to the difference in hygiene levels. Shared mice in the hot-desking environment had a 41% higher microbiological reading compared to readings taken from the computer mice at fixed-desks.

Dr Peter Barratt, Initial Washroom Hygiene, said: “Good hand hygiene is such a simple way to reduce the spread of bacteria and viruses. As we approach the colder months when the norovirus outbreaks and flu pandemics occur with more frequency, it’s even more important than ever.

“Simply leaving your mobile phone in your pocket while visiting the washroom could help to prevent the spread of illnesses. The hard surface of a mobile phone can harbour bacteria for up to 72 hours, so while it seems like a harmless way to pass the time, using the phone on the loo could potentially create an ideal cross contamination surface for bacteria and viruses.

“Employers have an important role to play to support their workers’ hand hygiene and good health. Simple initiatives like notices reminding workers to wash, dry and sanitise their hands after visiting the washroom, before eating and when hot desking, as well as discouraging the use of mobile phones in the washroom can make a huge difference. Creating a clean, pleasant and well-stocked washroom is also an effective way to support workers’ hand hygiene and overall health.”