Practising good hygiene in the workplace is always important, but it becomes especially prevalent as we go into the winter months. Coughs, colds and flu emerge on the scene, but the best cure is still prevention. After the outbreak of coronavirus, we were all stressed to wash hands more, keep a distance and wipe down surfaces regularly – the outcome? A huge reduction in cases of cold and flu. So here are our top tips for a hygienic working environment.
If you need to cough or sneeze, aim for the elbow
Coughing or sneezing into the elbow has been widely recommended as an intervention to reduce respiratory virus transmission. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises to cover the mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when coughing and sneezing. This is to avoid bacteria from the sneeze going onto hands and the surrounding air. However, you can sneeze or cough into a disposable tissue then immediately wash hands to avoid contamination and spread.
Wash hands regularly or have access to hand sanitiser
Regularly washing hands has been time and time again proven to stop yourself from becoming ill but also preventing others too. Washing your hands properly removes dirt, viruses and bacteria to stop them spreading to other people and objects, which can spread illnesses such as food poisoning, flu or diarrhoea. It can help stop people picking up infections and spreading them to others.
Germs can spread from person to person or from surfaces to people when you:
- Touch your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Prepare or eat food and drinks with unwashed hands.
- Touch surfaces or objects that have germs on them.
- Blow your nose, cough, or sneeze into hands and then touch other people’s hands or common objects.
Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations. If soap and water are not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. You can tell if the sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol by looking at the product label. Many supermarkets and chemists’ stock small, portable hand sanitisers that are perfect to have on you at all times.
Keeping a distance
After the outbreak of coronavirus everyone learned that keeping a distance does negate chances of catching bacteria and disease. Whilst covid maybe becoming more of a fact of life, much like the common cold the theory is still correct. By keeping a distance, you can help prevent spread. This can be a difficult concept for some to understand, personal space is just that – personal. Our recommendation is to keep some space between employees as best possible, some may even want to implement more. One idea an office had was red and green stickers on desks. Red indicated the person wanted to maintain space and green indicated they were ok being in close proximity.
The most important aspect here is that every employee has the right to feel safe in their workspace and you as the employer should always try to accommodate this.
Sharing is not always caring
Another effective method to avoid spreading germs and bacteria is not sharing items like tea-towels, mugs etc. Most people tend to have their favourite mug anyway but if not it is worth encouraging employees to keep the same mug and re-use throughout the day. Instead of communal tea-towels, paper towels would be more beneficial. Additionally, if each employee sanitised their hands before making a hot drink or using other items in a communal area it would stop the spread of germs and bacteria.
This of course is an incredibly sensitive subject and has been a common workplace issue for a long time. However, it’s also very important if a member of staff seemingly has a personal hygiene issue it could be an indicator that they are struggling in their personal life. Additionally, it could upset other members of staff and cause friction or wider issues. This article by People Management gives great guidance on addressing the issue.
Keep a clean and clutter free workspace
Encourage staff to regularly de-clutter their desks and provide cleaning products so surfaces can be wiped down and disinfected. If your staff aren’t office based or their ‘office’ is actually a vehicle the principle still stands especially if the vehicle is shared. Employees should regularly wash cups, mugs, plates and cutlery. Be safe rather than sorry by regularly washing the kitchen equipment you regularly use. You may also want to implement a clean desk policy. A clean desk policy sets out an employer’s expectations of the cleanliness of an employee’s desk. For instance, it can request employees pack all their documents into their drawers before leaving. Regularly wiping down a desk can also be stated in a clean desk policy. This also provides safety surrounding data as no identifiable data should be left on a desk for anyone and everyone to see.
Supporting your staff
As an employer you should ensure that a cleaner is provided for communal areas such as bathrooms, kitchens and break-out areas. You may also want to encourage food free zones so mess and smell is kept to a minimum.
You may also want to provide sanitising stations or go one better and provide employees with personal hand sanitiser, tissues and cleaning equipment so they can ensure themselves and their work areas are clean and hygienic. This would also be seen as an act of care from management to staff. Some workplaces have even started providing basic toiletry products to staff such as a basket in the bathroom with deodorant, sanitary products, dry shampoo etc. It is a very thoughtful act and may help some employees who struggle to access those products.
Most importantly when a staff member does become ill it is important you support them. This means allowing sick days, working from home and/or flexi time. It’s incredibly counterproductive to force sick members of staff to come in, it just means the illness is spread all across the workplace so everyone becomes sick, their quality of work will suffer as they should be resting and it makes for poor morale and ultimately high staff turn-over as people don’t want to work for someone who doesn’t care about their basic well-being.