In the second part of this blog series, our hygiene expert, Bev Wentzel, Regional Business Manager of Rentokil Initial in Gauteng discusses wellbeing and the role that colleges play in office hygiene.
What is the most important aspect to keep in mind in terms of well being and hygiene in the office environment?
Hand hygiene. Where there are personnel, there are hands, and where there are hands, there is cross contamination. Hands are the fundamental vector of ill health in a working environment. There are other contributors – of course – but the main cause poor hand hygiene.
At any given time you will notice how many times hands are shaken during the day, how many parcels are passed from hand to hand, how many handbags rest on a cubicle floor in the toilet and are then placed on reception counters, and even the resting place of a beautiful pair of Italian shoes is inevitably going to be in front of a urinal during some point of the day.
The 3 main areas in the workplace affected by cross contamination are the reception area, the kitchen and the bathroom environments.
- Reception area
Since the exposure to cross contamination through hand contact could be starting at the front door, we need to track the path of the hands throughout the business. If you have lots of visitors, this becomes even more important, and it’s equally important whether you have public visitors or business visitors.If the environment does not see frequent visitation throughout the day, you could possibly tone down control in that particular area.
- The kitchen
Another location in a workplace that receives a regular flow of traffic throughout the day is the kitchen. You have to consider the following: what happens in the kitchen, who runs the kitchen, who maintains the kitchen, who is doing the cleaning in and around the kitchen, who is doing tea or lunch services? We need to ensure there is adequate hand hygiene implemented in the office kitchen.
- The bathrooms
Good hand hygiene starts by ensuring that colleagues can wash – or sanitise – their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom.
If you have access to soap and water, then hand washing with soap and water, followed by drying (using a paper towel or air dryer) is the way to go. If you do not have access to water and soap, hand sanitising with an isopropyl alcohol-based hand sanitiser is recommended (if you do not feel comfortable making use of an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, there are other options available).
This should be supported with education in the workplace environment. We can’t assume that everyone has the same level of understanding around hygiene, but what we can do is create awareness about the importance of hand hygiene. An appreciation of the hygienic bathroom facilities that have been provided by the company is very valuable, and further encourages usage.
What role do colleagues play in workplace hygiene?
The employees of a business define the hygiene of that space, influencing it on a constant basis. The tea lady who cleans the bathroom is influencing the hygiene of the work environment. The manager who calls the tea lady from cleaning the bathroom to mop the floor in the reception area because there has been a coffee spill – and she never gets back to finish the bathroom because suddenly it’s tea time – is influencing hygiene in the workplace. Everybody impacts the development of a hygiene profile in a working environment.
If you have a closed work environment i.e. where the colleagues in the workplace are the population for the day, it is easier to control the hygiene profile. If the environment is subject to many visitors – such as shopping centres, airports or sporting arenas – hygiene levels are very hard to control and you need to create additional layers of protection, particularly in receptions, kitchens, canteens and bathroom facilities.
Because the user pattern and volume of people influence hygiene levels so heavily, we have general guidelines and draw up user profiles to determine the amount of services we need to provide.
There are other considerations to keep in mind, such as:
- Where do colleagues come from, what are their home circumstances?
- How they they get to work? Do they drive in a relatively hygienic private car or do they jump on a train, bus or taxi?
- What are they exposed to on the journey before they arrive at the door, and what are they handling?
- What level of hygiene is present on the product or goods that they are handling?
Remember, hands are the primary vector of cross infection and risk in the workplace.
It is all about colleagues. The business requirement to protect their health and wellbeing is very straightforward. By implementing a hygiene programme (along with your usual daily cleaning regime), one creates a layer of defense against the unavoidable build up of pathogens in the environment.
We are surrounded by pathogens – not all of them harmful – but they become a problem if their levels rise to a point where they can infect colleagues and cause illness which leads to absenteeism. The cost of hygiene is much less than the cost of lost productivity and profitability. It is a small investment to make in return for the well-being of one’s workforce.