While it might seem like a small part of the daily activities of a business, office hygiene can play an important part in ensuring employee satisfaction and productivity. SHEQ MANAGEMENT learns more

While office hygiene plays an important part in the health and safety of employees, many employers give it very little thought. Good office hygiene can prevent the spread of bacteria and keep pests at bay.

Bacteria spreads quickly in an office environment and can result in lost productivity as employees fall ill and take leave. The spread of illnesses like the flu (influenza) can also lead to death. According to Dr Pete Vincent at Netcare Group, 6 000 to 11 000 South Africans die annually due to flu-related complications such as pneumonia.

The Australian economy suffers an estimated A$ 34,1 billion (R353 billion) in lost productivity due to sick leave and the spread of disease in the workplace.

Office hygiene also prevents sick building syndrome (SBS). Leigh-Anne Parsons, national emergency medical service manager for Life Employee Healthcare Solutions, notes that SBS is caused by the ergonomics, work environment (cleanliness of the office) and psychological factors (such as whether employees feel safe).

The syndrome can cause employees to suffer from sinusitis, coughing, headaches, eye discomfort, fatigue, skin disorders and flu-like symptoms (particularly out of season). Pests like rats, flies, cockroaches and ants are also carries of harmful diseases and bacteria.

Companies that experience a high employee turnover rate need to find more ways in which to secure employee satisfaction and a hygienic office can play an important role. Libby Sander, assistant Professor of organisational behaviour at the Bond Business School at Bond University, Australia, notes that cleanliness in an office correlates with employee satisfaction.

Quality cleaning services also reduce illness. Sander notes that cleaner offices resulted in a decrease of 12,5 percent of sick days with improved productivity. Improving office hygiene doesn’t have to be an expensive exercise. Companies can simply implement a few good hygiene practices.

Employee hygiene

Although office hygiene is the responsibility of the company, it starts with the employees as they are the biggest carriers of disease and bacteria. It is important to encourage employees to practice good hygiene from rinsing out cups and wiping down desks to personal hygiene.

Hand hygiene is arguably the most important aspect of employee hygiene. Workplace hygiene programmes that include education on the use of hand sanitisers reduced hygiene-related healthcare claims by 20 percent.

Employers can play an important role by providing employees with hand wash in the kitchen and bathroom, or hand-sanitiser bottles or stations. It is also useful to put up signage to remind employees to practice good hand hygiene.

Employers should address any employee who fails to practice good personal hygiene. While the employer can’t force the employee to shower, for example, they can assist the employee through education and support. It is worthwhile for an employer to establish company policies on personal hygiene.

Desktop hygiene

It is important to clean the office and worktops regularly. The frequency of cleaning required depends on the office layout and season. In winter months, when employees are more likely to fall ill with contagious diseases like the flu, it is worthwhile to clean the office and worktops more often.

Open plan or shared-desk office layouts are also more at risk of spreading diseases. Sander states that open plan and shared-desk workplaces suffer 62-percent more incidents of sickness and absence than those with private or cellular offices.

Although many organisations encourage employees to wipe down desks, equipment and phones when they have finished using them, very few do. Offices with an open layout should thus be cleaned daily.

It is important to employ well-trained cleaning staff and provide them with quality cleaning products. Companies also have the opportunity to invest in a deep clean from commercial cleaners a few times a year to ensure all bacteria is killed.

Fighting the invisible spaces

According to Parsons, one of the important factors to SBS is the work environment, which includes the quality of the air. An office space should have natural, fresh air and light. If not, it is important to ensure that the indoor air quality is of a high standard.

An air-conditioning system that isn’t serviced and cleaned frequently, for example, can contaminate the air with dust and other particles, which can cause illness or spread disease. Air and water filtration systems can also assist in keeping employees healthy.

Kitchen and breakroom

The desk is considered one of the dirtiest places in the office and employees are encouraged to not eat at their desk. It is, therefore, important to provide employees with a clean kitchen and/or breakroom where they can eat their lunch. Keeping the kitchen clean can be a challenge, especially for companies with part-time cleaning staff.

Dirty kitchenware and food can attract pests. It is important to keep staples in the office, like coffee and sugar, in sealed containers and encourage employees to keep the kitchen clean by wiping down surfaces and cleaning spills.

Wet or sticky spots on the floor can result in employees slipping and falling. Employers can also encourage employees to bring their own cutlery or cups. Public Health England found that cups in the workplace are a big health hazard, with around 90 percent of mugs in the office kitchen coated in germs.

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