Does restroom cleanliness really matter when flu season comes around? You bet it does. Flu seasons are unpredictable and can vary in length and severity. Even though nearly half of the U.S. population receives a flu vaccination each year, the personal and financial impact of influenza continues to be high. The flu costs the United States more than $87 billion dollars yearly and is responsible for the loss of as many as 17 million workdays every flu season (U.S. Centers for Disease Control). With hospitalizations from the flu in the tens of thousands and flu related deaths in the thousands, there can be no mistake that the flu and its associated risks must be on your radar as a Facilities Manager.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend the annual flu vaccination as the best first line of defense for flu prevention. And yet, with some people opting out of recommended vaccinations, vaccination efficacy in question and even the quickly changing nature of the dominant flu strain itself, there must be other action taken to reduce the flu’s spread. Facility managers and employers can play a pivotal part role in safeguarding employee health while keeping an eye on employee productivity, reducing absenteeism, lowering health care costs and more.
Armed with the right information, you can help protect your employees and your facility from the significant health and productivity risks associated with flu epidemic and other communicable diseases like colds, viruses and common bacterial infections. There is an almost unlimited amount of information about colds, flus and the issues surrounding them but what do you as a Facility Manager need to know about restroom cleanliness and keeping your employees and tenants healthy this time of year?
1. Dirty restrooms aren’t just gross, they can make your employees sick.
No one likes to walk in to a restroom to find it in a state of dirtiness or disrepair but something worse could be lurking in the piled up trash and standing water. Restrooms that lack proper maintenance collect and spread germs. More germs plus high traffic equals more exposure to disease causing germs, bacteria and viruses like influenza and others. More exposure heightens the risk of disease transmission. This means more of your employees get sick and a rise in company wide absenteeism. Not only is rampant illness bad for morale, it’s bad for business and it is bad for your bottom line. Annually, an average of 5-20 percent of the U.S. population is struck by the flu, tens of thousands are hospitalized and thousands die from flu-related illness. This costs an estimated $10.4 billion a year in direct medical expenses and an additional $16.3 billion in lost earnings annually. Employers can play an important role in preventing flu, helping to protect employees’ health and reducing losses in productivity and revenue (Molinari NA, et al. Vaccine 25 (2007)).
So what can you do to mitigate the spread of illness? You can keep your restrooms maintained through the use of a commercial cleaning service or a professional office cleaning company.
2. Encourage proper hand washing.
Simple hygiene measures can be very effective in controlling germs and keeping you and your team from getting sick. Washing your hands regularly or using hand sanitizer is very effective in preventing the transmission of disease causing germs. But far too many people either do not wash their hands at all, do not wash them at the most important intervals like after using the restroom and before preparing or eating food or do not wash their hands correctly. Proper hand washing hygiene is very impactful in reducing the spread of the flu and absenteeism, so do not be afraid to remind your employees of the most effective hand washing methods.
The CDC maintains it is best to wash your hands:
- Before, during, and after food preparation
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for a person or people who is sick
- Before and after treating an open wound, cut or abrasion
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
Hand washing seems simple and straightforward enough and yet it is amazing how many adults do it incorrectly. So how do you wash your hands to effectively reduce the spread of germs?
- Wet your hands with clean, running water, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a guide on time? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air-dry them.
3.Encourage proper coughing/sneezing etiquette training.
Again, this simple measure can do so much to prevent the spread of the flu in the workplace. What is the recommended etiquette for coughing and sneezing? First, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue whenever you cough or sneeze. Then, dispose of your used tissue in a trash receptacle. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands. And if you do use your hands, or even a tissue, it is prudent to wash your hands afterward.
4. Make certain hot spots & touch points are cleaned regularly.
Touch points and hot spots are those areas in a facility or building that see many hands over the course of an average workday. Think door handles, light switches, computer mice and touch pads, faucet handles, telephones and more. These common areas are particularly dangerous when it comes to the spread of the flu and other diseases simply because so many people touch them. Sue from accounting scratches her nose, she is recovering from a respiratory infection and when she opens the bathroom door, she leaves invisible germs ready for the next person and other people throughout the day. While we cannot totally eliminate this kind of disease transmission, regular cleaning focused on these touch points can make a huge difference in keeping your employees healthy.
5.Make sure your commercial cleaning company knows the difference between cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing.
Cleaning removes, dirt, filth and some germs from surfaces or objects. Cleaning works by using a soap or detergent product and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. While cleaning does not necessarily kill germs, it reduces their numbers and limits the risk of disease transmission.
Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection.