In 2019, there were 2.8 million nonfatal job injuries and illnesses reported by US employers. Of these, 31.7%, or 888,220 cases, involved a worker missing at least one day of work.
Accidents, such as slips, trips, and falls, are some of the most common causes of job injuries. However, workers also fall ill due to exposure to hazardous substances or environments. These include chemicals, toxicants, and sometimes, poor indoor air quality (IAQ).
One often-overlooked illness factor among employees is personal hygiene. Poor personal hygiene in the workplace can turn a building into a breeding ground for germs. From here, infections and spread and quickly turn into an outbreak.
How exactly does personal hygiene affect workplace environments, though? Why should you care about and encourage workplace hygiene?
We’ll answer all these questions in four ways, so be sure to read on!
- Workplace Hygiene Can Help Reduce Health Incidents
One small study tried to quantify the frequency at which workers touch their face. The researchers found that, on average, the workers touched their faces 15.7 times per hour. The eyes, nose, and lips were the most common areas they touched
These findings further prove the roles of the hands in infection transmission. For starters, the human skin itself is home to at least 1,000 bacterial species. Outside the body, germs are ubiquitous, so anything that the hand gets in contact with is also a health risk.
Unfortunately, many pathogens are now resistant to drugs like antimicrobials. In fact, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is now one of the world’s top 10 public health threats. What’s more, drug-resistant microbes are as easy to catch as they are as difficult to treat.
With that said, a lack of personal hygiene in the workplace can give rise to illnesses. For example, heeding the call of nature at work can expose the hands to bodily fluids. So, not washing hands after going to the toilet allows germs to spread from the hands to whatever they touch.
All that can then trigger the onset of infectious diseases at the workplace. They can spread rapidly not only at the office but to the community, too. This is also one way that “outbreaks” can occur.
So, do yourself, your health, and your employees a huge favor! Make sure everyone follows proper hygiene practices in the workplace. Simplify things by always keeping restrooms stocked with hand soaps and sanitizers.
- Pathogens Are Quick to Evolve and Mutate
Some viruses have mutation rates as high as 1,000 to 10,000. “Mutation rate” refers to the frequency of new strains or mutations in a single organism over time. So, some viruses can mutate 1,000 to 10,000 times over their life cycle.
In some cases, mutated pathogens are a “worse” version of the parent or original strain.
A perfect example is SARS-CoV-2, which has gone through multiple mutations. However, the most recent one that made the headlines is the B.1.1.7 variant of the pathogen. Scientists are warning everyone that this strain has a much higher transmission rate.
That means that the new strain can spread at a more rapid rate than the parent strain. What experts aren’t sure of yet is if B.1.1.7 causes worse symptoms or effects. Still, this should be enough to establish rules of good personal hygiene in the workplace.
Do note that SARS-CoV-2 isn’t your only enemy, though. The same goes for all pathogens, be it viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi, or worms. After all, many of these can spread through skin contact or surface transmission.
- More Devices, More Ways for Disease to Spread
Many pathogens can survive on hard surfaces, such as equipment, for hours to weeks. One example is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). It can stay active for weeks at a time.
MRSA is a “superbug,” as it has developed resistance to antibiotics. For this reason, it’s more infectious and is far more difficult to treat.
MRSA skin infections can spread from one person to another via surface transmission. This means that an infected person can leave behind the superbug on their work area and supplies. Someone else can then get infected if they touch these contaminated objects.
Here’s the clincher, though: cellphones can harbor MRSA and many other pathogens. In fact, researchers say that these devices can be up to ten times filthier than a toilet seat. Aside from MRSA, your phone may also have Streptococcus or E. coli on it.
The thing is, most (if not all) working US adults bring their smartphones to work. What’s even more concerning is that the average US employee carries or uses more than two devices at work.
So, it’s easy to see how great the risk of disease spread is in workplaces. These further emphasize the need for proper hygiene and sanitation in the workplace. So, encourage your people to sanitize or disinfect not just their hands but their devices, too.
- From Sweaty Clothes and Moldy Food to Stinky Offices
According to a post by Spaulding Decon, mold problems can lead to respiratory and skin issues. For starters, breathing in mold spores can trigger asthma, wheezing, sneezing, and headaches. Skin rashes can also occur as a reaction to fungi exposure.
Many mold problems in workplaces have to do with unaddressed high levels of moisture. However, even the smallest things, such as sweaty clothes, can lead to mold growth. Mold spores can land on these items and then germinate from there.
Do note that some employees do hit the gym before heading to work. In this case, they may bring their used clothes to the office and then forget all about them.
Another personal hygiene matter related to molds in the workplace is food. Leaving food to rot away on a desk shelf can also contribute to mold growth. If disturbed, molds can shoot out their spores, which then land somewhere else with a lot of moisture.
The thing is, many types of fungi, including molds, have grown resistant to fungicides. For this reason, it can be difficult to put a stop to mold damage affecting an office building. Damage that a lack of personal hygiene may have kickstarted or contributed to.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let your people go to the gym before work or eat at their desks. However, you should have some form of workplace hygiene protocol for such cases.
For instance, you can let your people bring their used gym clothes to work, so long as it’s in a sealed container. You should also set rules about proper food disposal and prompt clean-up of leftovers.
Good Personal Hygiene in the Workplace Helps Keep Diseases at Bay
As you can see, personal hygiene in the workplace is one of the things employees should stop ignoring. It’s not only for their safety; it’s also for the well-being of every person they come into contact with. That’s why as early as now, you should develop a personal hygiene program or guideline for your people.
In doing so, everyone can contribute to a healthier and safer work environment.
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