Coronavirus the New Threat
With coronavirus in the news as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control confirmed three new cases here in the U.S. just this week, many people are wondering what they can do to protect themselves from infectious disease. Of those many types of diseases that can affect humans, perhaps none is more common than infectious diseases. Defined by the World Health Organization, infectious diseases are "any pathogenic microorganisms that can be spread directly or indirectly from one person to another." Thankfully, most of what we know about infectious diseases like influenza, tuberculosis, norovirus and even the common cold are applicable across the board.
Influenza A Far More Significant Risk
While news headlines might be making us fear this new coronavirus, influenza is a far more significant risk for those of us here in the United States. Every year without fail, flu season rolls around and can create havoc in the schools and workplaces. There is no way around it, wherever there are many people working closely in a communal space that creates the perfect condition for the flu to flourish. Coupled with poor cleaning, insufficient hand washing hygiene, improper sneezing and coughing etiquette and a general unawareness about how to best minimize the chances of spreading bacteria, the office often becomes a nexus of sick individuals. As a Facility Manager, keeping your employees healthy and absenteeism at a minimum is important. So what steps can you take to help minimize the effects of the cold and flu season?
Office Cleaning Must Put Health & Safety First
The largest predictor for how much of a problem the common colds, influenza and other illnesses are going to be for you and your facility is how well your cleaning company does their job. While effective cleaning is no substitute for employee hand washing, sneezing and coughing etiquette and staying home when one is ill, it can significantly reduce the germ load throughout your facility and keep touch points and hot spots clean reducing the spread of germs that do make their way into your facility. If your commercial office cleaning staff are not well versed in standard and industry specific cleaning for health practices, you and your people are at risk. In order to be truly effective, cleaning must go below the surface or strict cleaning for appearance to a true reduction of disease causing germs.
Touch Points & Hot Spots Are Critical to the Health of Your Workplace
Your janitorial services company should be targeting hot spots and touch points in your building to maximize the effectiveness of their services. Cleaning done on elevator buttons, railings, desks, door handles, phones and light switches is inherently more valuable in the defense of disease than baseboard for example. Frequently touched areas, or “touch points” are havens for disease causing bacteria to spread to everyone in your building, thus becoming potential “hot spots.” Targeting these areas is the first step in reducing the risk of illness in your office.
The Right Products Used the Right Way
There are all kinds of powerful, disease fighting chemicals to choose from, but without knowledge of how to use them they are not maximally effective. With proper training through a professional service provider, your cleaning staff come to understand that they need to clean first, sanitize second as well as what a dwell time is and how to effectively use different cleaning solutions. Dwell times are how long a cleaning produce must cling wet to a surface to effectively reduce and eliminate germs. Commercial cleaning must go beyond a rag and a bucket with a focus on best practices in order to make your facility truly clean.
Hand Washing & Why It Matters
The most common sense solution is one of the most effective: wash your hands frequently with hot water and soap. Your hands are the perfect medium to move pathogens from frequently touched surface to frequently touched surface. Hands and fingers move from mouth to nose to food and surfaces and all back again creating a perfect germ spreading machine. According to the CDC, viruses and certain bacteria types can live on your hands for up to five minutes and on hard surfaces for nearly two days. Five minutes may not seem like a lot, but it is more than enough time to get whatever is on your hands to somewhere it can get someone sick. The solution is simple: wash your hands before and after eating, using the restroom, touching a high contact surface or whenever you have a chance. It might seem overkill but nothing does more to combat office illness than regular hand washing.
Your Mother Was Right, Get Your Hands Out of Your Mouth
And while we are on the subject of hand washing and good hygiene, keep your fingers out of your mouth and nose. A lot of people have this unconscious habit and unfortunately it is one of the prime reasons that the cold and flu season affects so many. Your mouth and other mucous membranes are laden with disease causing bacteria and viruses, so a quick wipe of your nose with your hand or licking something off of your finger is enough to get you or someone else sick. Don’t be patient zero in your facility, educate and encourage your employees to utilize hygiene practices that limit the spread of disease causing germs.
Coughing & Sneezing Practices That Limit the Spread of Contagious Disease
If you're covering your mouth with your hands when you sneeze of cough, you might actually be doing more harm than good. As we discussed above, your hands are fantastic at transporting bacteria from place to place. The best place to sneeze and cough is into a tissue or into your elbow if one is not handy. This does more to stop bacteria from spreading in the air and your inner elbow touches far fewer surfaces than your hands. If you make the mistake of coughing into your hands, you should wash them immediately taking care not to touch your surroundings. This simple change in habit is an incredibly effective way to reduce the spread of disease around your office space.
Keep Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Handy
While hand washing is optimal, we all know that hand sanitizers are a good preventative measure when you can’t or don’t have time to wash your hands. But which types are the best? Alcohol based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol solution are the most effective way to clean your hands outside of good old soap and water. Lower alcohol formulas in hand sanitizer won’t be particularly effective at removing or killing pathogens on your hands. Of course, this isn’t a substitute for washing your hands, but it can be another tool in your arsenal to help reduce unnecessary illness.
If You Are Sick, Stay Home
All too often we see management staff encouraging their staff to come in while they are sick or workers looking to show their heroics by tackling work while actively infectious. Not only does this slow recovery down and is generally unhealthy, it is the single best way to take one person that is sick and turn it into 100 people that are sick. If someone is sick, not only will they get little work done, but in the process of being at work, they are going to get other, healthy staff sick as well. There is no reason for a sick employee to be at work. Don’t encourage presenteeism and actively encourage ill employees to stay home until no longer contagious or symptomatic.
Consider Getting the Flu Shot
The flu shot is often criticized as being ineffective because some people still get sick despite getting it. While this is true, nearly 90% of the time it is effective can have a serious impact on the number of sick people in your office. The flu vaccine targets the most prevalent strain of influenza that year to help reduce the total number of cases. Because these viruses change so frequently, it is impossible to completely prevent or provide a vaccine with 100% effectiveness, but a flu shot goes a long way to helping keep your building disease free.