Yes, it’s that time of year again, when the flu, colds, gastrointestinal bugs and other illnesses seem to spread around your facilities faster than office gossip. The bad news is that many workplaces offer an ideal environment for the spread of illness what with so many different people using commonly used objects and surfaces. In addition to close quarters, given enough people, some are going to be less than compliant when it comes to sneezing and hand washing etiquette. The good news is that through education and a few best practices, you can reduce the spread of disease in your facility.
Each flu season, more than 100 million workdays are lost due to the flu. That is equivalent to nearly $7 billion dollars per year in sick days and lost productivity. Absenteeism can take a toll on your business, productivity and overall morale. Armed with a few critical strategies, the right information and a little planning, you can help protect your employees from the seasonal flu and minimize the spread of other colds and viruses during this year’s cold and flu season.
What’s Grosser than Your Office Toilet Seat?
Well statistics say that your office toilet seat might be among the cleanest thing in your office. How can that be you might wonder? Typically, the toilet seat gets sanitized the most often. Most often, there are as many as 400 times more bacteria on a standard desk top than a toilet seat. What are the places in an office most likely to spread illness causing germs and microbes?
- Light & power switches
- Door handles, sink & toilet handles
- Communal food equipment like refrigerator doors, vending units and coffee pots
- Computer keyboard & mouse
- Copy and fax machines
- Elevator buttons
So lots of surfaces, lots of people in a communal environment all come together to create a perfect petri dish for common colds and flus. But there are things you can do as a Facility Manager to reduce the risks and minimize the spread of flu in your facility.
How Do Businesses Help Minimize the Spread of the Flu?
While you as a Facility Manager cannot keep everyone from getting sick, you do have a role in safeguarding the health of people who work and frequent your facility. How can you help limit the spread of colds and flus this flu season?
- Encourage flu vaccination. The more people vaccinate, the lower the risk that the flu will spread around your facility.
- Remind employees of hand washing health and encourage proper hand washing with clean restrooms and adequately stocked supplies.
- Remind employees to cover their mouth when sneezing using arms over hands and keeping hands out of their eyes, noses and mouths to limit the spread of disease causing germs.
- Skip handshaking this time of year.
- If you must shake hands, encourage the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers for in between hand washing.
- Encourage sick employees to stay home. As hard as it can be to get work done with missing people, encouraging or pressuring people to work when sick just delays getting well and exposes other health employees to illness.
- Make sure your facilities are really clean and well maintained, especially this time of year. Waste receptacles, often the site of used tissues, should be emptied well before overflowing. Surfaces that see a lot of different hands like handles, light and power switches, telephones and other “touch points” should get routine attention to limit their bacteria and viral loads. Likewise, your cleaning company should have a thorough understanding of disinfection procedures and dwell times (how long cleaning chemical must remain wet on a surface to properly disinfect) as to maximize office and facility health.
- Encourage employees not to use a coworker's phone, desk, office, computer, or other work tools and equipment. If they must, encourage them to clean it first with a disinfectant.
- Utilize disinfecting wipes on commonly shared items to reduce the concentration of viruses by as much as 99%.
Healthy habits can protect employees and visitors to our facility from getting germs or spreading germs thereby reducing the spread of flus, cold and other illnesses this time of year.
Why Cleaning For Health Can Make or Break Your Flu Season
While it can be helpful to remind your employees about hand washing and the like, your best line of defense is with regular cleaning and sanitizing of your facility. This can be a good time of the year to check in with your commercial cleaning service to make sure they are doing all they can to help reduce the spread of disease. Minimizing the spread of flus and other bugs is closely linked to your commercial cleaning service. A healthy work environment is more likely when your commercial cleaning services contractor sufficiently trains their employees on the basics of cleaning to reduce viral, bacterial and other common illness causing germs. If you janitorial service isn’t on top of this, your facility might only be look clean with no real benefit when it comes to the spread of disease.
What Your Cleaning Company Can Do to Keep You Well
There are a few elements that are absolutely critical to the success of cleaning to reduce the spread of disease.
- Special attention paid to highly transmittable touch points
- Correct use of chemicals including observation of required dwell times
- Color coded cleaning towels and rags
First, we consider touch points. Does your janitorial company understand the vital component of touch points in reducing the transmission of illnesses? If they don’t, you aren’t getting what you really need from your cleaning service. Sufficient cleaning and disinfecting of touch points is critical in creating a healthy work environment. Oft used “touch points” like light switches, business machines, elevator buttons, stair rails, telephones, door handles and other commonly touched surfaces become germ loaded “hot spots.” These germy areas should get consistent attention from your office cleaning service.
Second, your commercial cleaning company must not only have pathogen-fighting cleaners but also understand how to use them properly to fight disease. Most disinfecting cleaners have what is referred to as a “dwell time?” Dwell time is the amount of time the cleaning product must be allowed to remain wet on a surface before being wiped clean in order to effectively disinfect
This means that disinfectant cleaners must be applied to a visibly clean surface and then allowed to “dwell” a specific length of time before being wiped off. If your cleaning company has the right products but is using them incorrectly, you are not being adequately protected. A well-trained, commercial janitorial company knows that you clean first, sanitize second in order to insure a healthy work environment and reduce the spread of flus and colds.
Lastly, color coded rags can offer an additional layer of protection from disease causing germs and bacteria. Color-coded rags and cloths designate that certain color towels are used for certain tasks. In this way, your commercial maintenance company makes it less likely that a towel used to wipe a toilet gets wiped across your desk or telephone.
Enlist the Help of Your Cleaning Company to Limit Disease This Flu Season
Your janitorial company can be a big ally in reducing the spread of disease in your facility. This time of year is a good time to check in and ask what they are doing to help combat the extra risks this time of year. Do they understand dwell times? Do they utilize a color-coded rag system? Do they clean for health? If the answers to these questions don’t instill confidence in your cleaning service, it may be time to shop around. There are so many cleaning and maintenance companies it can be hard to find the right one. And yet, there are a handful of very good ones, committed to cleaning for health and forming lasting partnerships with your business.