Workplace hygiene is essential, as offices and workplaces have been found to be crawling with germs. Surprisingly, the workplace is one of the top places where people are most likely to get sick. The high number of employees and staff members who share surfaces and interact with one another drastically increases the likelihood of bacteria and viruses spreading.
A simple handshake, sharing a desk with a co-worker, or using someone’s keyboard can sicken your workers with the flu, norovirus, gastroenteritis, MRSA and other infections that can result in a wave of call-offs. An effective workplace hygiene strategy complete with the right tools and products can help reduce absenteeism, improve employee wellness, and even decrease costs in the long run.
The Financial Impact of Sickness and Infection In The Workplace
When an employee gets sick, it doesn’t just affect attendance, service levels, or operations. It also affects costs and your company’s bottom line. A survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that roughly 4.2 million workers in January 2018 missed work due to an illness, injury or medical problem. The fiscal consequence of this is substantial.
The Integrated Benefits Institute reports that U.S. workplace illnesses cost $576 billion annually. Of that amount, $227 billion is considered “lost productivity” from employee absenteeism due to illness or what researchers called “presenteeism”. “Presenteeism” is when employees report to work but illness keeps them from performing at their best.
Common Workplace Infections
There many infections that can be acquired in the workplace, but the ones listed below are the most common:
Rhinovirus (the common cold)
Influenza (the flu)
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
Streptococcus (strep throat)
Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
How People Get Sick at Work
Read below to discover the common ways bacteria gets transmitted in workplaces.
A common way employees get sick at work is by touching contaminated surfaces. If you consider the number of employees your company has and how often they touch things throughout the day, it makes sense how germs can quickly get out of control.
High touch surfaces in the workplace include desks, keyboards, door handles, the copy machine, the fax machine, and the bathroom sink handle. The area with the most contaminated surfaces where people are more likely to acquire an infection is the company break room.
Microwave door handles, break room sink faucets, the refrigerator door handle, the water fountain button, and vending machine buttons contained the highest level of bacterial organisms in the entire building during an inspection.
Improper Hand Hygiene, Coughing and Sneezing
Improper hand hygiene is responsible for the spread of most infections and diseases, as reported by the CDC. 92% of Americans say they believe it’s important to wash their hands after using the restroom, however, only 66% actually do. 70% of people admitted to not washing their hands with soap.
Coughing and sneezing sends bacteria and viruses into the air, which can be ingested by others or land on surrounding surfaces. Alarmingly, a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology noted that germs from one sneeze could travel from 19 to 26 feet. A single cough is capable of expending roughly 3,000 droplets of saliva into the air at a speed of about 50 miles per hour.
Failing to Sanitize and Disinfect Surfaces Throughout the Week
Most companies and offices employ commercial cleaning services and agencies to handle basic janitorial and upkeep tasks. Crews typically come one to three times each week to vacuum, clean windows and remove the trash. They seldom sanitize or disinfect surfaces and equipment to kill bacteria, allowing pathogens to flourish and infect employees.
Several bacteria can survive on a non-porous surface for longer than 24 hours. Rhinovirus, for example, can live for up to 7 days if it isn’t killed with a disinfectant. Norovirus is able to survive on surfaces for weeks if not killed, and the flu can live for up to 24 hours if it isn’t eliminated.
Regular disinfection is necessary to fully eradicate germs and prevent sickness. It is recommended that high touch surfaces are disinfected with a wipe or solution at least once every two to three days.
Sweat, blood, urine, vomit, and feces contain toxins that can also spread infectious diseases in the workplace. Hepatitis C, hepatitis B, HIV, rotavirus, meningitis, and shigella are just a few of the many viral diseases that can be passed from an infected person through bodily fluids.
Strict protocols must be followed to disinfect surfaces that come into contact with bodily fluids. Proper disinfection destroys specific pathogens that can transmit infectious diseases to other people. If they are not, diseases can quickly spread – sparking an outbreak.
Ways Workplace Sickness Impact Operations And Attendance
Although it’s best practice to stay home when you are sick, many employees don’t. 26% of American workers admit to going to work when they are sick, according to a study by NSF International. This doesn’t just put other employees’ health and wellness at risk, it also impacts productivity and operations.
86.5% of workers said they felt less productive at work when they are unwell during a CIPD Annual Absence Management Survey. When an employee is not feeling their best, it shows through their work. They may lack the urgency to complete tasks, focus, lead meetings or teams, or make decisions. Essentially, you could be paying someone to do a partial job.
Absences can also be a big problem when waves of sickness result in multiple employees being out at one time. This can delay projects and deadlines and cause voids in other areas. Additionally, as you experience more employees going to the doctor, you may notice the impact on your insurance, especially if you run a small business. Ultimately, sick employees lower productivity and can create large costs for a business.
Three Products That Can Improve Workplace Hygiene
Investing in simple and easy-to-use products can prevent sickness and infection in the workplace. Taking additional steps (and incurring small costs) now can save you money, lead to happier employees, and help your business run more efficiently. Here are three products that can keep employees safe from lingering germs and improve workplace hygiene.
If used to supplement to hand washing, hand sanitizer can drastically cut down on the spread of germs and viruses. More accessible and easier than handwashing, many people enjoy this quick solution to increasing their hygiene.
When placing hand sanitizer in the office, it’s worth going a step beyond storing bottles on desks. Consider mounting conveniently-placed bottles or dispensers in busy areas to make the hand sanitizer more accessible and easier to use. Hand sanitizer should be placed in all of your office’s high-traffic areas, including the reception desk/ area, bathrooms, break areas/ cafeterias, supply centers, and near copiers/ scanners.
Sanitizing and Disinfectant Wipes
Sanitizing typically removes 99.9% of common germs from hands and surfaces while disinfecting kills 99.999% of specific pathogens known for causing particular diseases. Sanitizing and disinfecting wipes are ideal for high-touch surfaces and in high-traffic areas where germs are likely to be spread.
Both types of wipes can be used daily to ensure that the germs in your office are not spreading, and contaminated surfaces are not posing a threat to employees. Be careful not to use wipes that contain harsh or toxic chemicals as they can damage and surfaces over time and even cause health complications for employees.
Use non-toxic wipes that don’t contain alcohol, bleach, phenol or ammonia as they are safer for both employees and equipment and surfaces.
Dispensers and Stands
Dispensers and stands house and display wipes and sanitizers, and functions as a simple 2-in-1 easily accessible solution. Placing them in high-traffic areas remind employees to exercise good hygiene at all times.
Additionally, providing a dispenser or stand for your sanitation products works with the product to further reduce the spread of harmful germs. Employees and visitors will be less likely to contaminate surfaces or acquire infections when sanitizers and wipes are conveniently placed. This adds another layer of protection to your company’s wellness initiative(s).
Workplace Hygiene Is Essential for Destroying Germs
Germs won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, they are evolving – becoming more resistant to antibiotics and new strains are developing. Workplace hygiene is crucial to reducing and eliminating germs that can get employees sick.
Bad hygiene habits coupled with a lack of products needed to help employees sanitize and disinfect skin and surfaces is a recipe for disaster. Keeping your workplace healthy is necessary to maintain and improve productivity, prevent losses, and decrease absences. While this problem can seem overwhelming – it doesn’t have to be.
Advances in technology and science make preventing the spread of disease easier and more cost-effective. Something as simple as creating space for accessible and convenient hand and surface sanitation products can be the difference between losing hours of productivity and profit or enjoying a full, healthy, happy staff, especially during the dreaded winter cold & flu season.
Taking care of your employees, your clients, and your business doesn’t have to be difficult. And, with the right solutions, it can actually enhance your office on several fronts.