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February 2020

Is your fingerprint scanner making you sick?

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Cleanliness and Hygiene

My husband recently started a new job at a company based in Cape Town’s CBD. The offices are beautifully appointed, with state of the art technology and security including a fingerprint scanner to enter each floor. Within a week or so of starting his new job, he came down with the tummy bug that was afflicting the office. 

My thoughts immediately went to the financial impact of absenteeism and the risks of cross-contamination in a shared workspace (read more about the 7 most common office germs here or watch the journey of the germ if you need a refresher as to how quickly germs can spread in the workplace) and then more specifically to a possible culprit: the fingerprint scanner. 

Is your fingerprint scanner making you sick?

A recent study conducted in a hospital setting measured bacterial flora on the fingerprint surface of the biometric fingerprint scanners used in the hospital. The study found that 46% (nearly half!) of the samples taken were culture positive and that Coagulase-negative Staphylococcus species (CoNS) was the most common organism isolated from the samples. 

According to Healthline, Coagulase-negative Staphylococci (CoNS) are a type of staph bacteria that commonly live on a person’s skin. Doctors typically consider CoNS bacteria harmless when it remains outside the body. However, the bacteria can cause infections when present in large amounts, or when present in the bloodstream. Staph can enter the bloodstream cuts, abrasions and skin-to-skin contact. 

Following CoNS in the sample were Gram positive bacilli (44 %) and Gram negative bacilli of  (7%). The differences between Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria are primarily related to their cell wall composition, and not to their ability to cause disease. The 3 Gram negative bacilli isolated were Enterobacter spp. (the cause of urinary tract infections)  Acinetobacter spp (pneumonia) and Aeromonas spp.(gastroenteritis).

The study concluded that biometric fingerprinting devices are prone to transmitting disease-causing microorganisms indirectly from one person to another. Whilst this study was performed in a hospital, the conclusion is just as applicable to any hard-surfaces that come into contact with multiple hands, such as the scanners in offices, banks and other access controlled areas.

Should you use a hand sanitser?

With this in mind, I asked my husband whether there was hand sanitiser available after entering and using the scanner. He thought about it for a moment and then said there wasn’t. But before I could launch into my by-now well-worn speech on the shocking statistics around hand hygiene in the workplace and the necessity of having hand sanitisers in high traffic areas, he looked at me and said, “But even if there was hand sanitiser next to the fingerprint scanner, it would be hard to use”. 

Err… what? My blank expression must have been a giveaway, because he elaborated, and explained that to get through the fingerprint scanner, he already has to juggle a laptop bag and his motorbike helmet. In order to sanitise his hands properly after that, he would need to put down whatever he was carrying. So in all reality, he confessed, he probably wouldn’t bother, preferring to take his chances with a grimy scanner rather than the inconvenience of having to put everything down on an equally (if not more) unsanitary floor.  

This gave me pause for thought. So often we are quick to suggest what seems like an obvious solution: dirty fingerprint scanner making people sick -  provide a hand sanitiser! - without perhaps looking at the reality of the user experience. Far more useful, said my husband, would be hand sanitising stations near each bank of desks, that you could sanitise your hands once you had safely deposited all your belongings. 

As the experts in Hygiene, Initial consultants are trained in spotting this sort of user requirement, and can offer practical solutions (such as mobile sanitiser stands) to real workplace hygiene requirements. 

And then, just to really upset me, he added… “You know, sometimes the scanner doesn't work very well and I’ve seen people lick their finger to make it read better…”

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Good hygiene practices are vital to the health of your business, and by simply maintaining good hand washing practices you can easily avoid many common workplace illnesses.

Download your free hand washing guide, or to view more helpful information on all things related to hygiene, take a look at our other resources.

Download Hand Washing Guide

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie is the Category Manager at Rentokil Initial, and has worked in the hygiene and pest control industry for 12 years. Although after 12 years cockroaches still have the power to terrify her, she has learnt countless ways to defeat germs both in the workplace and at home. She is a passionate advocate for Global Handwash Day and the health benefits that can be derived from regular handwashing and hygiene practices. When not contributing to the Initial blog, Nathalie is writing press releases for sister businesses, Rentokil and Ambius. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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