Dirty and unhygienic workplaces can be potentially very costly for employers. What should organisations look out for in order to maintain a healthy workplace?
Earlier this year, new legislation was passed in Queensland to ensure healthcare facilities which breach hygiene standards pay the price, with hefty fines up to $365,700. The ruling came in the wake of the closure of a Brisbane-based dental clinic that failed to safeguard clients and workers from blood-borne diseases.
Unsafe hygiene practices in office based environments can also be pretty costly, although the price is mostly paid in loss of productivity due to illness. A study conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research in 2014 found that unhygienic workplaces cost the Australian economy $5.4 billion annually. The study also found that Australian workers are also likely to take 1.6 days of sick leave per year due to unhygienic working environments. It’s therefore in the best interest of HR to promote a hygienic workplace in order to keep staff healthy and happy.
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Surprising health hazards
The bathroom and kitchen aren’t the only breeding grounds for germs. Desks and devices have also proven to be some of the biggest germ traps, according to cleaning service hassle.com.
At the risk of sounding paranoid, here are some things to be wary of:
- Headsets – when left unclean, they can cause rashes and the spread of lice due to sweat, ear wax and hair fibres. Avoid sharing headsets and wipe them down weekly.
- Desks contain more bacteria than toilet seats and should be wiped twice a week.
- Chewing your pens allows bacteria from your hands to spread to your mouth, and if you are in the habit of sharing pens, germs from other people’s hands.
- Your mouse and keyboard are continuously exposed to food particles, dirty sweat and dust. Make sure to give these devices an occasional wipe.
- Workplace printers are touched multiple times per day by different pairs of hands, particularly the keypad. Optimally, a sanitiser should be placed nearby so that the can be wiped before use.
The biggest contributors to the spread of germs
Greg Bamber, Professor at Monash Business School, suggests other ways that HR professionals can model and promote good hygiene behaviour.
1. Hand washing
Hand washing regimes in offices should be up to the same standard as hospitals, where medical professionals wash their hands many times throughout the day, especially when coming into contact with clients. The Victorian State Government workplace safety guide advises that hands should be washed with soap and water for at least 15 seconds after using the bathroom, before food preparation and after touching clients or equipment.
2. Employees coming into work when they are infectious
Employers should pay close attention to workers who are exhibiting signs of illness and send them home. The ability to work remotely means workers who are unwell need not necessarily take sick leave.
Company-wide flu vaccinations should be organised before winter time, preferably around March or April. The flu vaccine changes every year due to mutating and evolving viruses, so employees need to get their flu shots annually.
Organisations should encourage employees to keep fit and maintain a healthy diet to ward off illness. Employees should take regular rest breaks and get out of the office at lunchtime to get fresh air and a bit of exercise. Bamber suggested organisations should provide facilities where possible or organise office trips to the gym or the park.
A clean workplace
It goes without saying that a clean working environment controls the spread of germs and infections, and that a dirty one encourages them. But what does this look like logistically? The Victorian State Government advises all surfaces (dirty or not) be washed regularly with warm water and detergent, spot cleaning desks, computers, keyboards and other devices when necessary. Mops and cleaning cloths should be kept dry as pathogens thrive in a moist environment.
Getting the message across
Emphasise the importance of health and hygiene during the onboarding process, suggests Bamber, as well as regularly reminding employees about organisation standards. Hygiene policies should be reinforced through signage and good communication.