More than a fifth of people in 19 countries were infected by swine flu during the first year of 2009 – an incredible figure. It’s impossible to forget the media storm and reaction in the first few months of that year to the pandemic, which is believed to have killed 200,000 people worldwide.
If anything good came of the spread of the H1N1 virus it was an increased vigilance of due diligence in workplace cleanliness for a month or two, but there is debate as to whether that good practice has continued in many companies.
So here are three tips to help maintain a healthy workplace if you’ve noticed increased illness, or just want to create an environment of well-being.
- Wash your hands
This is perhaps the most important piece of advice. Our hands are used all day, from eating to typing to lifting to touching raw food, and yes, going to the toilet. Other people perform the same tasks, and between us our hands are carrying all sorts of nasty bacteria and chemicals, from salmonella to E Coli.
It takes 30 seconds or so to wash one’s hands properly – wet the hands, apply enough soap to cover the hands completely, rub the palms and interlock the fingers, rub the nails against the palms, rinse, and dry. Several hand washes equate to 5-10 minutes of total washing throughout the day – and potentially a saving of several days of illness. If you can, carry a little bottle of alcohol-based sanitiser.
If you’re working in an environment where you are handling sensitive material – food preparation and production, or in a medical capacity, for example – you should wear protective gloves such as those available from Brosch Direct.
And be vigilant: A recent American TV programme tested public toilets, and discovered that there was 150% more bacteria on toilet paper dispensers than the seat itself. Here’s the uncomfortable full story from the Daily Mail.
- Take care of your workplace
Workstations can harbour bacteria and illness. A keyboard will retain skin, crumbs and other little homes for filth – studies have shown that they may contain 70% more bacteria than a toilet seat. A telephone can host 25,000 germs per square inch.
So keep your desk and work area clean by regularly cleaning the surfaces and wiping keyboards. It won’t always be possible to avoid using other people’s phones, but try not to make a habit of it.
Cleaners should regularly empty bins, clean fridges, and wipe door handles and taps. Try not to share cutlery or cups and if possible avoid eating at your desk, but be aware when handling ‘communal’ magazines in waiting areas, cafes or tea rooms.
Good ventilation can help pass rogue bacteria away from the room.
3) Stay at home if you feel sick or unwell.
When you feel under the weather you may believe that you are ‘fine’ – indeed you may show very few symptoms – but not everyone may be as lucky. Bringing a cargo of fresh illness and bacteria into the workplace is both counter-productive and actually dangerous, so put your guilt to one side and do the responsible thing.
If you feel ill at work, tell your boss – they should allow you to go home immediately, or the staff member responsible for health may examine you.
Your workstation will then be cleaned in your absence.
One last thing: prevention is better than cure. All appropriate vaccinations should be taken when offered, particularly influenza. Here is the information you need for the free vaccination from Public Health England.