Summer is coming to an end and the colder months will soon be here. Unfortunately, this also means that flu season is almost upon us. The recent Covid-19 pandemic heightened our awareness of communal hygiene practices and how to keep ourselves and those around us safe and it’s important that your office space continues to be a safe workspace for employees.
When it comes to the spread of flu, there are some common culprits that make it more likely a person will pass on the illness to someone else. Professional leaflet printers, instantprint, surveyed 1,000 UK employees to find out what habits they think are the worst bad-hygiene behaviours. The top award for most disgusting office habit went to ‘not washing your hands after going to the toilet’ with 43% of those surveyed naming it as the worst behaviour. It was shortly followed by ‘coming into work when ill’, which scored 37% of the votes, showing just how much workplace culture has shifted since the pandemic. Prior to Covid-19, going into work with a cold or other mild illness was seen as a badge of honour in many offices with employees encouraged to take as little time off sick as possible, however the recent pandemic has highlighted the importance of staying home to prevent the spread of viruses.
Other behaviours that made the list included greeting colleagues with a kiss (32%), hugs (28%), bringing your unwashed gym wear into the office (27%) and giving high-fives (23%).
So, are the behaviours listed above really the worst in terms of spread of infection? Any behaviour that includes skin-on-skin contact, for example, kissing, hugging, and high-fives is perfect for aiding transmission, though it isn’t the only way infections can be spread.
Some diseases are airborne, meaning they can be breathed in when an infected person coughs, sneezes or exhales. You can also catch the flu if you touch contaminated objects or food or by sharing personal items, such as clothing or towels, for example. Another route of transmission is through bodily fluids, such as saliva, urine and faeces. This may seem incredibly unlikely in an office environment and many people might mistakenly assume this only applies to clinical settings, such as healthcare but in fact we can just as easily come into contact with another person’s bodily fluids using a shared bathroom in an office or other place of work or by something as innocuous as sharing a coffee cup or water bottle with someone who has the flu.
Those who named a lack of handwashing after using the toilet were indeed right to be disgusted by this bad habit as one of the most crucial components of any infection control strategy is handwashing. Thoroughly washing hands with soap and water removes many potentially harmful pathogens from our skin and should be done regularly, particularly after visiting the toilet and before preparing food.
There are several steps you can take to keep your employees safe during flu season and reduce the risk of an outbreak amongst workers. Aside from the personal hygiene measures that individual workers can take, such as handwashing and staying home when ill, there are other measures that can reduce the spread of viruses such as the flu.
Employees should have their own desk and chair or if this isn’t possible, then instead implement a desk booking system to minimise movement around the office. Desks should also be kept as clear as possible to make cleaning work surfaces easier. Employees should be encouraged to bring their own crockery and cutlery to work to avoid cross-contamination. Thorough cleaning systems should be put in place, with particular attention paid to surfaces that people frequently touch, such as door and cupboard handles and control panels on equipment such as printers and photocopiers.
One of the biggest ways to reduce the spread of illness in the office is to encourage workers who are ill to stay at home until they are fully recovered, which could take up to a week in an otherwise healthy adult. It’s also a good idea to send home any employees who begin to feel unwell during their working day.
It’s thought that the average adult in the UK will catch the flu once every five years, so whilst it may not be possible to completely avoid the flu altogether, you can reduce the chances of your office being negatively impacted this flu season by following the simple steps above.