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December 2018

Do YOU use your phone in the bathroom?

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Workplace Hygiene

If you read that headline and responded with a horrified “Of course not!” you may be surprised to know that research conducted by Initial into the habits of 5000 office workers found that one-third of office workers take their phone into the cubicle with them.  And a whopping 35% read or browse online, 18% play games, 13% update their social media status and 12% bring food or drink into the toilet.

Of those people messing around on their smartphones, 55% are on Facebook, 43% are WhatsApp-ing, 15% are smashing their best score on Candy Crush and one in ten (9%) are trying to catch a Pikachu.

Dr Lisa Ackerley, a leading hygiene expert, commented, “While bringing a smartphone or a newspaper into the bathroom may seem like a good way to pass the time, the danger is that germs are easily transferred from unwashed hands to objects that are routinely used throughout the day. When workers wipe and then resume playing with their phones or simply pick them up before washing their hands, their phone becomes a fantastic reservoir for germs such as bacteria and viruses which will re-contaminate even washed hands meaning germs can be easily passed around the office.”

And this is just as relevant at home as it is at work. I'm sure just as many people use the perceived ‘down-time’ of a bathroom break as the perfect opportunity to check in with social media! Whether hands are washed or not (and we sincerely hope they are) the phone is already potentially laden with bacteria simply by virtue of having been taken into the bathroom. And if your family is anything like mine, before very long your kids want to play word cookies on your phone or send a WhatsApp to Granny …. As the phone gets passed around, so does the potential for cross-contamination. We have discussed how dirty phones can get in a previous blog 7 Bacteria Hotspots we bet you didnt know about and recommend giving them a good clean on a regular basis, as well as not taking them into the bathroom with you!

Initial’s research also investigated how many people really wash their hands after they use the bathroom. According to the World Health Organisation, hand hygiene is "the most important measure to avoid the transmission of harmful germs", so the fact that 84% of those who were asked whether they always washed their hands after visiting the bathroom said that they did and that 27% of respondents claimed to wash their hands for more than 20 seconds every time, seemed to be a good result.  

However, when we compare that to the results that we were able to physically monitor in a comparable industry using our hand hygiene compliance solution, HygieneConnect, the actual percentage of people washing their hands was observed at nearly half of what they are claiming*. Which puts the real numbers well below 50%.

Yet  - somewhat ironically - 54% of office workers said they would be “disgusted” if a colleague didn’t wash their hands after visiting the toilet and 24% claim to have called someone out for forgetting to wash their hands. If you aren’t one of the 24% of people confident enough to say something to a colleague, but still wish to address the situation, Initial has created some handy office bathroom posters to say what you feel too awkward to say and to encourage healthy bathroom hygiene habits. Download them here.

By failing to wash our hands, either correctly or indeed at all, those germs that have been picked up in the bathroom will go on to be transmitted around the office or home, as we move around, from door, handles to pens, to phones; and even to food if you’re one of the 49% of the workforce who eats at their desk.  (Read our blog on keeping your laptop clean for a reminder on why you should step away from the desk at lunchtime, and if you’ve ever wondered what’s hiding under the keys of your keyboard, download our simple template to find out!)

Good hand hygiene practices still remain the number one best way to prevent cross-contamination and the risk of illnesses associated with cross-contamination, both at work and at home. Download our Comprehensive Handwashing Guide for some valuable resources.Download your handwashing guide

* Continuous HygieneConnect monitoring carried out in 2015 by Initial Hygiene.

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

I joined Rentokil Initial South Africa in 2004 as the PA to the MD, and after 6 months maternity leave I re-joined the Company in 2009 as the Marketing Co-ordinator for Rentokil. I'm now the Marketing Communication Manager for Rentokil Initial. I'm still terrified of cockroaches (Americana's only!) but the rest of the creepy crawlies we deal with don't really bug me (see what I did there?), so I guess I'm in the right industry! I am passionate about what we do here at Rentokil Initial and also write for our Hygiene Blog, which can be found at www.initial.co.za. Life outside of Rentokil mostly revolves around my daughter, who has just turned eleven, and my husband (who is a bit older). I love living in Cape Town and wouldn't trade living here for anywhere else in the world.

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