There are two possible sources of E. coli infections - contaminated food items, like raw chicken, and poor personal hygiene, for example not washing one’s hands after using the toilet. It has remained unclear which one of these sources is most likely to lead to infection, until last week. New research from the University of East Anglia found that not washing hands is behind the spread of a key strain of E. coli. With human-to-human transmission now confirmed as the main culprit, it is more important than ever for businesses to ensure good handwashing hygiene practice is front of mind for employees.
A touchy subject
Hands are a natural breeding ground for germs and one of the principal carriers of harmful pathogens. Approximately 80 per cent of viruses can be transmitted through physical contact, and most can live on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours. With 32 per cent of the UK workforce hotdesking, and 49 per cent eating lunch regularly at their desks, there is potential for germs and illnesses to spread rapidly amongst workers in the office through cross contamination as they touch various surfaces while going about their working day.
The simple act of washing your hands can significantly reduce the level of bacteria present, and therefore reduce the risk of cross contamination.
Improve personal hygiene
Bacteria such as E. coli can spread quickly, especially now the temperature is dropping and people are spending more time inside. The risk increases further in a contained office environment with lots of shared touchpoints.
Ensure your washroom has plenty of sinks, soap dispensers and hand dryers. Putting hand washing reminders near these facilities will also encourage workers to wash, dry, and sanitise their hands properly. Given damp hands spread 1,000 times more bacteria than dry hands, it is especially crucial that the drying stage is not overlooked.
Staff should also have access to alcohol free sanitisers around the office, which provide a quick yet long-lasting barrier to protect against microorganisms.
As an extra barrier of protection, consider installing no touch soap dispensers and sanitisers, which eliminate the need for contact and – subsequently – reduce the spread of bacteria.
Finally, ensure washrooms are cleaned and re-stocked regularly. With reasons for not washing hands ranging from a lack of provisions like soap, to being put off by an unclean handwashing area, hygienic facilities are essential. A formalised cleaning plan, with a properly monitored and updated record or logbook, will ensure planned washroom cleans happen as they should throughout the day.
With 61 per cent of office workers demanding cleaner washrooms, investing in these steps will show employees your commitment to ensuring workplace hygiene is front of mind.
Keep the washroom for washing
Worryingly, more than one in 10 office workers said they take food or drink into the washroom with them, a habit that could facilitate the rapid transfer of bacteria directly from the washroom onto an item that is going to be consumed.
On top of that, 40% of workers admit to using their smartphone while on the toilet and 30% said they spend longer in washrooms since acquiring a smartphone. While using your phone may seem innocent enough, only 22% of workers clean their phone after using it in the washroom. This is particularly worrying when you consider that we interact with our phones 120 times per day, on average, and bring it close to our mouths when we make calls.
Taking items like this into the washroom is not only unhygienic, but when hands aren’t being washed properly, can increase the risk of E. coli spreading.
In order to limit serious, antibiotic resistant E. coli infections, we must focus on thorough handwashing. These latest findings from the University of East Anglia serve as a vital reminder to refresh workers on the importance of washroom hygiene and ensure that the right facilities, tools and education are in place for it to remain a priority.