Illness spreads quickly in the workplace. Shared surfaces, high foot traffic and a closed environment can create a reservoir for germs. If a workplace is not thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis, certain viruses and bacteria may be present. Some businesses take a proactive approach to health in the workplace by encouraging healthy practices among employees and by making physical changes to the work environment.
Some places in the workplace house more germs than others. While most people assume that the bathroom is the dirtiest place in the office, kitchens and break rooms can be just as bad, if not worse. Sink faucet handles, refrigerator doors and vending machine buttons can all host high amounts of bacteria and viruses. These are spots that are often neglected during office cleaning. Germs can also accumulate on keyboards and desks. In industrial workplaces, greater square footage gives germs more surfaces to occupy, but the dirtiest places are typically the handles and buttons of frequently used machinery.
Certain bacteria and viruses are more commonly found in the workplace than others. The virus that causes rhinopharyngitis, also known as the common cold, is often found on surfaces in the workplace, especially during the winter months. The same can be said for the norovirus, often known as the flu or the “winter vomiting bug.” With respect to bacteria, Escherichia coli (E. Coli) – which can be found in human fecal matter – is typically present on certain bathroom surfaces. Less commonly found are bacteria like methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). MRSA is particularly dangerous because it is resistant to antibiotics.
Some businesses are more proactive than others when it comes to health in the workplace. One preventative measure that can be seen in more and more offices is the increased presence of hand sanitizer. Dispensers are placed around the workplace, making it easy for employees to quickly wash their hands. Similarly, the placement of trash cans encourages employees to throw dirty items away instead of leaving said items on their desk or around the office. Many businesses also have a daily morning and evening cleaning of the entire workplace. This goes a long way to prevent the buildup of bacteria and viruses. Finally, some businesses respond quickly to instances of illness, sending sick employees home before they can infect others.
Of course, the most effective way to keep the workplace healthy is to promote good hygiene habits among the employees. One way that businesses do this is by posting signs around the workplace reminding workers of best hygiene practices, such as keeping desks clean, washing hands frequently and cleaning up after having a meal. Occasional informational sessions on the subject of hygiene can provide additional reminders. Encouraging employees to say home if they are feeling ill is perhaps the most effective way to keep harmful germs from entering the office in the first place.
In the coming years, businesses will need to be more proactive when it comes to health in the workplace. Some bacterial infections have already become resistant to antibiotics and this trend is likely to continue. As bacteria and viruses continue to evolve, outbreaks of illness in the workplace will be increasingly destructive.