Sloppy Hand Hygiene in Offices: What a Mistake

hand wash

Office spaces are crawling with bacteria. When you start typing your day off at your keyboard, you’re coming into contact with up to 16 million microbes.

Feeling like drinking some water? You’ll find 228,854 million bacteria lurking on your kitchen tap handle.

It’s the contaminants we bring from the tube, the market, the toilet. Add a dozen of your co-workers bringing in whatever they’re down with.

Until bacteria count adds up to the numbers high enough to make you reasonably worried.

You want to to take care of your team and boost their work performance. So you go out of your way to launch an awesome workplace wellness program. But how much do you care about their hand hygiene?

The simple act of washing hands can protect your staffers from just about any seasonal illness. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch.   

Over and above, a randomised trial carried out at the U.S. government office building tested the effectiveness of alcohol-based hand sanitisers in fighting off illness going around the office.

It resulted in 31% drop in self-reported respiratory and gastrointestinal infection rates.

With no proper action, you’re leaving your office to the mercies of disease-causing germs. And the vicious circle of catching infections and passing them on. Not fun at all.

Now, we’ll shed some light on why it’s in your best interest to promote good hand washing practices in your office. And why doing otherwise is a huge mistake you wouldn’t want to afford.

What Will You Learn?

How Often Do Australian Office Workers Wash Their Hands?

What Are the Risks Associated With Poor Hand Hygiene?

Step Up and Protect Your Workplace

How Often Do Australian Office Workers Wash Their Hands?

The news of the latest outbreaks of new strains of flu hitting the headlines strike the chord with almost everyone. But do we know we can do ourselves a big favour if we practice good hand hygiene in the office?

You may think of hand washing as the most basic office etiquette rule your colleagues are following. Hopefully, at least after using the toilet. But in reality it’s everything but coming up roses.

The Australian Food Safety Information Council’s (FSIC) study showed we’re back to ground zero when it comes to hand washing. No improvement whatsoever from 2002.

According to the study 3 in 10 men you shake hands with fail to wash his hands after using the toilet.

But another question arises. Do we know how to wash our hands long enough to kill the germs that can mess our health up?

As it turns out, there’s another bit of research that isn’t quite for the fainthearted. Michigan State University researchers exposed the dirty truth that only 5% of people washed their hands properly.

It resembles a catch-22, but it’s not that hopeless. There are ways to get round poor hand hygiene performance in your office.

prevent spread chart

Image from www.ccohs.ca

What Are the Risks Associated With Poor Hand Hygiene?

Dangers from not washing hands do not end at merely a few coughs and a sneeze here and there. The immune system in adult humans is typically strong enough to fight off the infections caused by office germs.

But it is when the germs multiply and spread around your office that they can wreak havoc for your staff and your business.  And it doesn’t end there as well.

Skipping hand washing can hurt your business in more than just one way. So, let’s have an honest look at what may be in store for you when you neglect it.

Your Office Becomes a Hub of Germs

Consider the next scenario. You turn up at the office, go to the loo and forget to wash the germs that commuted with you off your hands. What happens next is they reach your colleagues almost as quick as a morning briefing reaches their inbox.

But you’re in the soup as well. Whenever your colleague coughs or sneezes the droplets that are forced out are expelled into the air you breathe. But these tiny particles also turn your office surfaces into a germy minefield.

Touch these surfaces and then touch your mouth, nose or food and you have a good chance of picking up the infection.

This holds true all the more so for those working in open-plan offices. It is here that germs migrate more quickly since many people circulate in the same space.

No wonder open-plan spaces have a 62% higher incidence of staff absence compared to those in private or shared cellular offices.

Now, want to know your way around a germ-ridden office? Let’s put it under the microscope.

An average office desk harbours roughly 10 million germs. 400 times more than found on a standard toilet seat.

Jaw-dropping? Reasonably so. Germs are lurking everywhere. But what are the most notorious hotspots? Researchers swabbed 4800 surfaces in office buildings and came up with “officially dirty” badge holders.

These are:

  • breakroom sink tap handles (75% incidence of being dirty)
  • microwave door handles (48% incidence of being dirty)
  • computer keyboards (27% incidence of being dirty)
  • refrigerator door handles (26% incidence of being dirty)
how to clean your office

Image from Office Clean

Your Employees Are More Likely to Get Sick

You can skip cleaning your hands but it’s hardly worth the hassle. All it takes is a good hand rub at the sink or a mere 30 seconds of rubbing with a hand sanitiser.

A 2017 Australian flu epidemics brought home that getting to grips with a flu outbreak is what you can call hard work. The 2017 flu season hit the all-time high, leaving 745 death victims behind.

laboratory chart

Image from The New Daily

So, you should know the different pathways through which your office workers can get infected:

  • Airborne infections. They are transmitted through the air after an infected person has coughed, sneezed or spoke.
  • Contact infections. They involve having a direct physical contact with an infected person. Examples of transmission include handshaking or coming into contact with an infected person’s blood or bodily fluids.
  • Indirect contact infections. The infection spreads by touching an object or a surface that has been contaminated by an infected person.


Now, let’s get straight to the most common diseases caused by unclean hands in the office.

Respiratory Illnesses

Respiratory illnesses spread rapidly in office environments. Talking about flu, the first line of defence would be to send an infected worker home.

Why? These highly infectious diseases spread by sneeze or cough droplets that keep lingering in the air.

According to an MIT study the rush of air after coughing or sneezing can travel as far as 60 metres into the room. Chances are slim the infected employee won’t take other coworkers down with them.

Most common respiratory illnesses include:

  • Rhinoviruses like common cold and influenza.
  • Group A and B streptococcal infections
  • Chickenpox
  • Meningitis

Hopefully, this video featuring an office flu experiment will be an eye-opener for you.

Wonder how to curb the spreading of airborne infections? Truth is you can get big results from small efforts. Instruct your office staff to:

  • Use good sneezing and coughing etiquette by sneezing into their handkerchief or their elbow
  • Inspire them to practice good hand hygiene by washing hands with soap and water
  • Make hand hygiene a matter of no hassle at all. Fit your common office areas with automatic hand sanitiser dispensers

These preventive measures can help you get through even the nastiest flu season.

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) suggests alcohol-based hand rubs as the most effective and practical solution for hand hygiene in most settings. As reported by IHI, the whyfors are the following. They are:

  • Easy to use
  • Good at rapidly decreasing bacteria counts on hands
  • Reported as a cleaning method that increases hand hygiene adherence
  • Said to reduce illness-related absences

Noroviruses

Your office desks, stationary and coffee pot can look as neat as a pin. But as you know, things aren’t always as they seem.

This may sound gross. But objects you keep handling on a daily basis may be covered with faecal matter.

These invisible minute particles you can pick up anywhere in the office contain Salmonella, E. coli and norovirus contaminants. The three pathogens share more or less similar symptoms, which are:

  • nausea,
  • vomiting,
  • diarrhoea and
  • stomach cramps.

The most typical ways noroviruses are transmitted throughout the office? Let’s have a quick look. They’re most typically spread:

  • In enclosed areas populated by large groups of people. For instance, cruise ships, military barracks and open-space offices.
  • When a person doesn’t wash their hands after using the washroom. Then goes about their business contaminating other office surfaces. Pretty much anything you touch in the washroom can get your hands contaminated. Simply flushing the toilet launches millions of bacteria all around the cubicle space.
  • When office workers fail to practice hand washing before eating or handling food.
  • By touching smartphones after we’d taken them with us on the trip to the loo. The pathogens that remain on the phone surface will recontaminate hands each time we reach of the phone.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease that can take milder or more severe forms. The viral infection is linked to poor sanitation and hand hygiene. And is listed as one of the most common causes of foodborne infection.

It’s characteristic symptoms are:

  • lack of appetite,
  • abdominal pain,
  • jaundice,
  • fever and fatigue.

When it comes to Hepatitis A, beware of the office pantry. Below are the ways it’s usually passed on in office environments. It’s spread by:

  • The faecal-oral route. When a person ingests food that has traces of a contaminated person’ faeces.
  • Close personal contact. The virus can be transmitted by touching the infected person or having close physical contact.

Your Business Finances End Up a Mess

Still not quite sure about what this has got to do with you in particular? Join the dots. Hand hygiene blunders are one of the top causes of office sick days. This transposes to a yearly absenteeism cost of $44 billion to the Australian economy.

It can be completely off your radar. But the importance of hand washing is huge in regards to your finances too. It can’t get more tangible than when a flu or cold outbreak gnaws away at your workforce.

A surge in the number of affected staff members makes cashing out sick leave for your employees all the less fun.

Year-long random controlled trials showed a simple strategy can bring you to a decline of 20% in hygiene-related healthcare claims.

The confluence of staff training and regular office use of hand sanitisers is shown to work. As simple as that.

Step Up and Protect Your Workplace

Sloppy hand hygiene at your office requires action on your part. Basically, it comes down to the well-familiar fight-or-flight response. And it looks like this. Do something or face consequences of poor hand hygiene.

A real benefit? Getting in on some hand hygiene action establishment-wise yields an indirect revenue for your business.

Just think about how much you’ll be able to save on fewer sick leave payouts. And why not continue in this fashion?

Switch to a rental hygiene program and make extra savings. Fresh & Clean can help you raise the bar with your office hand hygiene. And keep it that way long term.

Our professional staff can bring hand hygiene wherever you need it.  Our automatic hand sanitisers can easily find their way to your workstation areas, break rooms and office gardens.

All that for a low fixed monthly fee. No hidden costs and no hassle at all. At least not on your part.

Give us a call now and we’ll tailor an individual hand care program that suits your workplace.


Photo courtesy of freepik by @shayne_ch13