We probably spend more time at work than we do at home, which increases our chances of being exposed to infection from colleagues. Good hygiene in and around the workplace is essential in reducing the risk of being ill, as is staying off work if you have an infection that can be easily transferred to others.
Working on Good Hygiene
Including the time spent travelling, we probably spend more of our waking hours at work than we do at home. If someone around us has an infection, chances are we are going to be exposed to it for a reasonable amount of time. What can we do to help protect ourselves while we are at work?
- Ensure your vaccinations are up-to-date, for example during cold and flu season.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or use a hand sanitiser.
- Stay at home if you are ill (so you do not spread it to other people).
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing and coughing, then throw it in a bin and wash your hands.
- Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth (viruses can transfer from your hands and into the body).
- Make sure shared cups, glasses, dishes and cutlery are clean before you use them. Wash them in soap and water after use and dry thoroughly.
- Keep your workstation clean and clear of food debris.
Why is Good Hygiene Important?
Travelling on public transport and working in close proximity with work colleagues can lead to germs being easily spread, especially when employees feel pressure to come to work when they are ill. Understanding how germs spread and what we can do about is a first step to helping to protect ourselves from infection.
What You Should Know
Frequently touched surfaces are a breeding ground for germs. These include lift buttons, hand rails, desks, telephone handsets, door handles and toilet flushes. To avoid contaminating these surfaces yourself, cover any sneezes and coughs with a tissue, before throwing it in a bin and washing your hands thoroughly. Also ensure that you wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet.
To avoid picking up germs from already contaminated surfaces, use your elbow or a tissue to press any lift buttons and remember to clean your hands after using hand rails, for example. If you can’t avoid touching dirty or commonly touched surfaces, wash your hands or use a hand sanitiser before touching your face.
How Good Hygiene Can Help You Stay Healthy
Wash Your Hands
The most important way to help reduce the spread of infections is through frequent hand washing with soap and warm water, particularly before and after preparing or eating food and after using the toilet.
Travelling to Work
If you travel to work on public transport then your daily commute can expose you to many germs and infections. This will be mainly from other people but there will also be germs left on surfaces such as hand rails. Over crowded public transport together with lack of air movement means that peoples’ germs can spread easily to others. To help stop the spread of germs, if you have a cold or flu, make sure you cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and dispose of the tissue properly to a bin. Use a hand sanitiser to kill germs on your hands. Germs such as cold and flu viruses can survive on surfaces for several days so if you have come into contact with a commonly touched surface, avoid touching your eyes or mouth until you have had a chance to wash your hands.
At Your Workstation
Research has shown that the average office desk area has an enormous amount of bacteria and viruses on it. This is particularly true of areas like the computer keyboard and mouse, and telephone handsets. Make sure you clean these items regularly using a disinfectant wipe. This is particularly important if you share a desk with others, for example, when hot desking. Don’t eat lunch over your keyboard, as food can fall in between the keys and because it is difficult to remove, this can become a hygiene hazard.
Store pre-prepared meals and snacks in the refrigerator while at work to help prevent food poisoning. Ensure that any communal mugs, dishes, or other crockery items and cutlery are clean before you use them. Afterwards, wash them with hot, soapy water. Use disposable cloths instead of a communal sponge to wash up as sponges can harbour germs. Even better, use a dishwasher if one is available.
Stay at Home
Stay at home if you have an infection that can be easily transferred to others (e.g. flu or gastrointestinal infection). You will benefit by being able to focus on getting well quickly, and your colleagues will benefit by not getting infected either!
Occupations Requiring a Higher Standard of Hygiene
If you work in a hospital, kitchen, care home etc. then high levels of hygiene are crucial in helping to stop the transfer of germs to others. Normally local hygiene policies are likely to be in place to cover these situations, but remember to adhere to them fully to help protect others.
Hygiene for Manual Workers
It’s important to thoroughly wash your hands before and at the end of your shift. You should also wash your hands before and after the following activities:
- entering a packing line
- touching clean produce
- putting on new gloves
- preparing or consuming food
- cleaning equipment and preparation surfaces.
- using the toilet
- touching bare human body parts (ears, nose, hair, etc.)
- working with soil or rotten produce
- handling rubbish
- smoking or doing other activities that dirty your hands.