Good hygiene practises in the workplace are important for everybody’s health. As much as we might not want to, many of us have to head into the office every day for work. We need to be sure to take responsibility for our own hygiene so that we protect others and ourselves from the spread of illness.
Keeping our hands clean is one of the best defences we have against spreading infections. In a recent study by Initial Research, over 50% of people admitted to not washing their hands after using the bathroom at work at least once. Considering the amount of people who occupy office buildings and all the surfaces they touch throughout the day, the risk for spreading infections is very high.
Research has also found that viruses can spread from a single doorknob or surface to 40-60% of workers in as little as 2 hours. Prevention really is the best medicine. This means keeping our hands clean and reducing the risk of germs being moved from one spot to another is the best way to reduce the spread of viruses and bacteria.
The Aotearoa New Zealand Ministry of Health advice on hand washing is to use liquid soap, wash for 20 seconds and dry for 20 seconds. Ideally you will use warm water and paper towels. They advise to always wash and dry your hands before preparing or eating food, as well as after:
- Sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose (or wiping children’s noses)
- Gardening (or playing outside for children)
- Having contact with animals
- Going to the toilet or changing nappies
- Looking after sick people.
Kitchenettes and food preparation areas are shared environments, which can become dirty and unhygienic quickly if they are not regularly cleaned. Food preparation surfaces, utensils, and appliances (the office microwaves…!) are high-risk places for bacteria transmission.
It is common for gastroenteritis (or gastro) to be spread thorough unclean kitchens. It is an infection and/or inflammation in the digestive system that normally presents as vomiting and diarrhoea. Food that has been contaminated can often not taste, look or smell bad, so it is often not immediately obvious that there is any cause for concern.
Something that many people might not be aware of is that flushing a toilet with the lid open releases a lot of bacteria into the air. Within 60 seconds of a toilet being flushed, bacteria can make its way to other surfaces in the bathroom like the vanity, sinks, and taps.
We have already (unfortunately!) learned that over half of people will use the bathroom at work without washing their hands. This is often due to there not being adequate hand washing facilities – such as no soap or paper towels, or taps not working. This leads to people going into other bathrooms or kitchens to wash their hands, spreading germs across handles and surfaces as they go, or just not bothering at all!
People are the biggest sources of germs! Germs live on us, and harmful germs are spread by our poor hygiene practises. Desks and work equipment, keyboards, the computer mouse, and stationery all have high levels of bacteria. Some studies have put this level at over 400 times the amount of bacteria found on a toilet seat.
This also includes desk phones and cell phones! You take your cell phone everywhere, you touch them before and after eating, going to the coffee shop, touching door handles, using the elevators, and after using the toilet.
Hot desks or shared desks are likely to contain higher rates of bacteria, as many different people use them each week. They are also less likely to have regular cleans as no one person is responsible for doing it.
Types of infections
Worksafe New Zealand describes the following possible ways for infections to be spread:
Spread when people cough or sneeze without covering their nose and mouth. This is also exacerbated by air conditioners that are not cleaned or not having the filters regularly changed.
Contact with viruses and bacteria. This could be physical contact with the infected person or with their body fluids.
Contact with an infected surface or object that has been contaminated by another person.
How to keep your office hygienic and healthy
- Wash your hands!
- Run campaigns at work to educate about office health and hygiene practices.
- Provide the right equipment for staff to keep their hands and the areas around them clean and healthy, such as sanitisers, paper towels and cleaning products.
- Clear old and expired food out of shared refrigerators and shelves to prevent contamination.
- Use paper towels instead of cloths in the kitchens and bathrooms. Shared damp cloths can actually grow and spread more germs. Paper towels reduce this risk and can be bought in recycled and/or compostable options for your sustainability efforts.
- Service air conditioner units regularly to prevent the build-up of the allergens and toxins that can make the air unhealthy.
- Get good air fresheners that aren’t irritating to the smell.
- If you feel unwell, contact your preferred health professional immediately. Don’t show up at work. Consider working from home or
- Get a good office clean from a trusted cleaning service provider. – contact Crewcare today and let us take care of your regular cleaning to keep your workplace safe for your people.
For a health and safety work environment, good workplace hygiene is also key (aside from basic personal hygiene). Not only will it veer office workers away from any health risks, but it will also be good for their emotional and mental health. Offices can be stressful as they are, so people need a refreshing space to work and move or breathe in.