Delivering Effective Workplace Hygiene with Efficiency
By: Dawn J. Yeomans, Ph.D., Contributor
All it takes is one employee coming to work sick to potentially create an outbreak in the workplace. In fact, a research study showed that when one person’s hands were contaminated with a virus, more than half of commonly touched surfaces in an office environment—like doorknobs, desks and tabletops—were contaminated with that virus by lunchtime.1 With employees working in close proximity and sharing eating areas, workspaces and restrooms, the risk of an illness outbreak is high.
Additionally, workplace illnesses have a significant economic burden on both large and small businesses. According to the CDC, productivity losses due to absenteeism cost employers $225.8 billion annually in the U.S., or $1,685 per employee.2
Fortunately, hygiene interventions in the workplace are effective. Scientific studies have shown significant reductions in germ transmission, leading to decreased absenteeism and hygiene-preventable healthcare claims with programs aimed to increase hand and surface hygiene in buildings and office spaces.3-5
In addition to the economic benefits of infection prevention in the workplace, there are many other benefits of maintaining good hygiene practices in a workplace environment, including:
- Reinforcing a positive reflection of a company’s values
- Showing the company cares for the well-being of its employees
- Reducing staffing issues
- Increasing employee morale, attitude and loyalty
With the current challenges surrounding labor shortages, supply chain uncertainties and inflated business costs, employers cannot afford to strain already tight resources with the risk of an outbreak. Thus, practices aimed at promoting and maintaining a hygienic work environment have the potential to significantly increase profitability and productivity. However, it is important to simplify approaches and focus on evidence-based best practices to ensure that workplace hygiene efforts will be effective. This ensures that hygiene protocols can be implemented in the face of current operational uncertainties.
How Can Hygiene Be Improved in the Workplace?
Every business has unique cleaning and disinfection needs. However, no matter the size of the facility, preventing the spread of germs through proper cleaning is essential, and having a workplace hygiene policy and disinfection protocol in place is key to achieving this. Maintaining a regular cleaning schedule with frequent disinfection of main touchpoints, and preventing cross-contamination of surfaces via good hand hygiene, can help to prevent germs from multiplying and spreading throughout the workplace.
Below are five considerations to guide the development of an achievable workplace hygiene policy and protocol:
Contaminated hands spread germs.
Sick employees bring their germs into the workplace. As germs are frequently transferred by a sick individual’s hands (by touching your face or coughing or sneezing into your hands), hand hygiene is one of the most effective, non-pharmaceutical approaches that can be taken to help reduce the spread of illnesses in the workplace. The following list includes simple guidance to help ensure hand hygiene will be effective in practice:
- Do it properly. The CDC recommends practicing good hand hygiene often and at key moments during the day. Hands should be washed with soap and water or cleaned using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (ABHS) with at least 60% ethyl or isopropyl alcohol.6 Providing signage at key moments—such as after restroom use, sneezing or coughing into hands, handling garbage or contaminated items, before eating and upon entering the facility—will help remind staff to perform hand hygiene when it matters most.
- Choose proven products. Hand hygiene products should be provided in the original packaging with appropriate labeling and should be in-date (e.g., not expired). Some hand sanitizers have been found to contain potentially dangerous chemicals,7 so when selecting an ABHS, ensure the product is made by a reputable drug manufacturer and is not on the FDA-banned list of sanitizers.8
- Choose aesthetically pleasing products. Employees are more likely to use products they like, so avoid supplying hand sanitizers and soaps with poor aesthetic qualities, such as an undesirable smell, poor product consistency, stickiness or those that irritate or dry hands.
- Avoid the risky practice of “topping off” The practice of refilling hand sanitizer dispensers with any gallon-sized product is associated with the risk of alcohol evaporation, potentially leading to an ineffective product.7 Additionally, refilling soap dispensers this way also has a risk of contamination and may actually spread germs.9,10 These practices should be avoided.
- Provide ample opportunities. Provide sanitizer dispensers at key locations to make them convenient for use when hygiene is needed. These include facility entrances, corridors, kitchen or eating areas, restrooms, outside of elevators, conference rooms and other shared, high-traffic areas.
Contaminated surfaces perpetuate the germ cycle.
Bacteria and viruses can readily survive on objects and surfaces, thus having the potential to be transferred to hands and lead to illness. Therefore, surface hygiene is another critical component of workplace infection prevention programs, but it is often not practiced consistently in a safe and effective manner. Best practices are as follows:
- Disinfect common, high-touch surfaces regularly. Frequently touched hard surfaces, like light switches, door handles, elevator buttons, handrails, timeclocks, vending machines, desktops, and conference tables and chairs are more likely to be contaminated with germs. Additionally, hard surfaces in restrooms and breakroom areas also have the potential to harbor high numbers of germs.
- Choose the right product. EPA-registered disinfectants proven to kill germs should be used on high-touch surfaces.11 Consult the product’s label or technical bulletin from the manufacturer for information on efficacy against specific organisms.
- Follow label instructions. It is important to read and follow the instruction labels to ensure the disinfectant is used safely and correctly to remove germs. Contact or “kill” time is critical; some disinfectants can take up to 10 minutes to kill certain germs.
Low-toxicity disinfectants help maintain safe indoor environments.
Workplaces are unique settings where many employees are present for extended periods of the day. The risk of exposing workers to toxic fumes from disinfectant chemicals may be increased, particularly in low-ventilation or closed spaces. The following information and reference sources may help users easily identify high-efficacy disinfectants with lower-toxicity active ingredients:
Additionally, the Design for the Environment (DfE) label helps identify surface disinfectant ingredients that have been reviewed by the EPA and only include active ingredients from the least-hazardous toxicity classes (e.g., Category III and IV). Currently, DfE-certified disinfectant actives include citric acid, hydrogen peroxide, ethanol and lactic acid.12 The EPA also publishes a Safer Chemical Ingredients List (SCIL)13 with peracetic acid, L-lactic acid, citric acid, hydrogen peroxide, sodium bisulfate, ethanol and isopropanol considered “low concern.”
All employees can help prevent the spread of germs.
Humans are creatures of habit, so a hygiene culture must be built. Creating an effective employee hygiene program starts with education about its importance and reinforcing desired hygiene behaviors.
An effective hygiene policy should include regular cleaning of personal surfaces with disinfectant. Workplace hygiene policies should thus make provisions for each employee to regularly clean and maintain their workstation or work areas. Keyboards, mice, pens, mobile phones and other high-touch personal devices should be disinfected regularly to prevent the spread of illness-causing germs. This has the potential to act in synergy with regular facility cleaning practices to help reduce the risk of
Operational efficiencies help create an effective and sustainable hygiene program.
One of the major concerns for facilities managers is that the level of hygiene needed to prevent outbreaks is unattainable, with ongoing constraints on budget and available resources. Thus, there is a need to balance time and resource investment with the ability to achieve a maintainable disinfection approach that helps to reduces germs to prevent and control outbreaks. Here are a few final tips to promote efficiencies in achieving an effective hygiene strategy.
- Have a hygiene policy and protocol in place: Ensure staff are aware and trained on how to implement it. Encourage your employees to promote optimal personal hygiene as a supplementary “extension” of your professional cleaning staff.
- Focus on surfaces and moments that matter: Frequently disinfect high-touch surfaces in shared areas and increase hygiene efforts seasonally, such as during cold and flu season in the winter, and during community or workplace outbreaks.
- Select efficient products: 1-step or all-in-1 disinfectants with fast “kill” times and formats, such as ready-to-use sprays (vs. dilutable products); battery-powered or electrostatic sprayers; and surface disinfecting wipes will enable effective surface hygiene to be completed with less time and resources.
About the Author
Dawn Yeomans, Ph.D., is a Hygiene Sciences and Partnerships Senior Advisor for GOJO Industries. Dr. Yeomans has 15+ years of experience supporting product development and advancing science and technology in skin health and hygiene science at leading consumer goods manufacturers. She holds a BS in Biochemistry, Master of Science in Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences.
- Kurgat EK, Sexton JD, Garavito F, Reynolds A, Contreras RD, Gerba CP, Leslie RA, Edmonds-Wilson SL, Reynolds KA. Impact of a hygiene intervention on virus spread in an office building. Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2019 Apr;222(3):479-485.
- CDC Foundation. https://www.cdcfoundation.org/pr/2015/worker-illness-and-injury-costs-us-employers-225-billion-annually#:~:text=Worker%20Illness%20and%20Injury%20Costs%20U.S.%20Employers%20%24225.8%20Billion%20Annually,-January%2028%2C%202015&text=The%20Centers%20for%20Disease%20Control,States%2C%20or%20%241%2C685%20per%20employee. Accessed 08/17/2022.
- Arbogast JW, Moore-Schiltz L, Jarvis WR, Harpster-Hagen A, Hughes J, Parker A. Impact of a Comprehensive Workplace Hand Hygiene Program on Employer Health Care Insurance Claims and Costs, Absenteeism, and Employee Perceptions and Practices. J Occup Environ Med.2016 Jun;58(6):e231-40.
- Zivich PN, Gancz AS, Aiello AE. Effect of hand hygiene on infectious diseases in the office workplace: A systematic review. Am J Infect Control. 2018 Apr;46(4):448-455.
- Sifuentes LY, Fankem SL, Reynolds K, Tamimi AH, Gerba CP, Koenig D. Use of ATP Readings to Predict a Successful Hygiene Intervention in the Workplace to Reduce the Spread of Viruses on Fomites. Food Environ Virol. 2017 Mar;9(1):14-19.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/handwashing-corporate.html. Accessed 08/17/2022.
- Manuel CS, Yeomans DJ, Williams JA, Fricker C, Kucera K, Light D, Arbogast JW. Presence of unsafe chemical impurities, accelerated evaporation of alcohol, and lack of key labeling requirements are risks and concerns for some alcohol-based hand sanitizers and dispenser practices during the COVID-19 pandemic. PLoS One. 2022 Mar 18;17(3):e0265519.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-updates-hand-sanitizers-consumers-should-not-use#products. Accessed 08/17/2022.
- Zapka CA, Campbell EJ, Maxwell SL, Gerba CP, Dolan MJ, Arbogast JW, Macinga DR. Bacterial hand contamination and transfer after use of contaminated bulk-soap-refillable dispensers. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011 May;77(9):2898-904.2011;
- Schaffner DW, Jensen D, Gerba CP, Shumaker D, Arbogast JW. Influence of Soap Characteristics and Food Service Facility Type on the Degree of Bacterial Contamination of Open, Refillable Bulk Soaps. J Food Prot.2018 Feb;81(2):218-225.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/selected-epa-registered-disinfectants. Accessed 08/17/2022.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-labels/dfe-certified-disinfectants. Accessed 08/17/2022
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice/safer-ingredients#searchist. Accessed 08/17/2022.
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