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Stop Being Sick of Winter Infections

16 October 2015 | Updated 01 January 1970

Hand hygiene systems can make a huge difference in the workplace by reducing the chances of staff getting sick in the first place argues Mike Sullivan, MD of GoJo Industries Europe.

Business owners and service providers cannot afford to let germs and bugs affect their productivity, so employee wellbeing is of paramount importance as the winter infection season approaches. 

Maybe it is the fact that I have been working in the hand hygiene sector for many years now but it is obvious to me that the spread of infection in the workplace is very much like something that goes ‘viral’; a highly appropriately word, on social media. Usually it is an ill-advised tweet or inflammatory Facebook post but whichever one it is, it spreads like wildfire and the consequences can be catastrophic.

An outbreak of infection in the workplace – be it private or public sector, service, retail, leisure or healthcare-based – can have devastating consequences. Firstly, there is the discomfort of the unfortunate employees that fall ill and the worry caused to them by having to take time off in these days of austerity and job insecurity. This leads to stress for their colleagues, who will probably be expected to provide cover, juggling two jobs at once.

For managers and business owners there are HR considerations as well as the extra cost of paying sick pay alongside overtime or extra money for agency staff. Fast forward to the end customer who is dissatisfied with the break in service and the potential for real problems to occur is obvious.


Infection woes

We can all suffer from ill health at any time of the year but there is a marked increase in certain infections during winter.

While the ‘common’ cold is characterised by sneezes and coughs, it is a short step from here to something rather more serious, e.g. influenza which has symptoms that last longer and tend to be more severe. It is possible to catch flu all year round but it is more prevalent in winter, often leading it to be referred to by the term ‘seasonal flu’. Symptoms include fever/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain, headaches and fatigue; a formidable list that can incapacitate even the healthiest employee for days.

Norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug, is another winter woe which often hits the headlines when hospital wards have to be closed because of an outbreak. It is another highly contagious virus that affects people of all ages causing vomiting and diarrhoea. With no particular ‘cure’ available, the only thing a victim can do is to let the infection take its course. If you are ‘lucky’ this will only amount to a couple of days but it often takes much longer to recover.


Reducing risks

However, there is a simple way to reduce the risks of infections spreading through a workplace, namely encouraging good hand hygiene habits by ensuring that easy to use and effective products are freely and widely available.

Washrooms are a major source of complaints in office buildings with unclean/under-stocked washrooms being a top grievance. Gone are the days of the grimy cake of soap sitting uninvitingly on the side of a hand basin. It is now essential to provide good soap in robust, aesthetically pleasing, easy-to-operate dispensers.

Adding a clinically proven hand sanitiser option, especially in a dispenser at the exit door, improves hygiene outcomes even more by providing an additional layer of protection after washing and an alternative option for the worryingly high number of people who still do not wash their hands after using the toilet. Dispensers and desk/table-top pump bottles in other high traffic areas will ensure employees can keep their hands clean and germ free wherever they are.


Sick soap syndrome

We have all heard of sick building syndrome which describes a range of symptoms thought to be linked to spending time in a certain building, usually a workplace but I will wager many of you will never have heard of sick soap syndrome.

I am referring to bulk refillable soap systems which rely on an unwieldy and extremely unhygienic way to refill dispensers, i.e. pouring the soap into an open reservoir. This is messy, labour intensive and makes the soap prone to environmental contamination by bacteria and germs, working directly against the aim of creating a healthy, productive environment.

Sanitary-sealed refills are the much better option, being hygienically sealed at the factory and simply ‘snapped’ into place on site. This means that the soap is never exposed to the outside environment, ensuring it is contamination-free.

Employers should not dismiss the threats that the winter infection season poses to their output, service provision and productivity. However, if they can get their employees into the good hand hygiene habit, the risks can be neutralised, resulting in employees, customers and profits that look very healthy indeed.

Picture: An outbreak of infection in the workplace can have devastating consequences but simple steps can be taken in ensuring good hygiene

Article written by Cathryn Ellis | Published 16 October 2015


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