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Is Your Workplace Making You Sick? No, Really!

Isabelle Faivre
March 24, 2015
154082018-1According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average employed American adult spends more than 53% of their waking hours at work. That is more time spent working than eating, drinking, relaxing, spending time with others and doing household activities combined. Unfortunately, statistics also show that most work settings are hotbeds for germs and bacteria.  Implementing a solid hand hygiene program can play a key role in eliminating infection and other related workplace maladies. The following infographic from Deb addresses the scope of this problem, highlighting the price we pay for ignoring skin safety and hygiene and offering a few simple solutions to solve it.

Eighty percent of infectious diseases are spread by our hands and at least 40 percent of workers do not wash their hands often. And those who do wash their hands regularly, only do so for about ten seconds, half the amount of time recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Improper hand washing allows the bacteria on your hands to quickly multiply to same amount prior to hand washing within 80 minutes. After those 80 minutes, it is if you hadn’t even washed your hands at all. Shared, public space like the office where people interact in close proximity, are at a higher risk for the spread of germs. The restroom in particular, can become a hotspot for bacteria growth. Faucets, toilet seats and soap dispensers are a few of the most likely culprits. In fact, a recent study shows that about 25% of public restroom dispensers are contaminated with fecal bacteria!


       Download an Infection Prevention Manager's Guide



Here are some basic tips for preventing the spread of germs at work:


  • The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

  • If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

  • For facilities managers, provide adequate hygiene supplies, including clean and functional hand washing stations.

  • Consider installing touch free or antibacterial-coated soap and paper towel dispensers.


Preventing illness at work extends beyond hand washing and hygiene issues.  The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) reports that one out of four workers is exposed to skin irritants or skin hazards in the workplace, which may cause irritation, inflammation, infection or even occupational dermatitis. This is especially common in environments that require frequent handwashing, like foodservice, childcare, health care and “wet”work, like hair salons. Occupational skin disorders are the most common type of workplace illnesses, with estimated costs, including time away from work, reduced productivity and workers compensation claims, exceeding $1 billion annually, according to the CDC.


Here are some strategies for avoiding skin-related illness in the workplace:


  • Implement a skin care program that includes pre-work protection creams, hand cleansers and sanitizers, as well as after-work restore and conditioning creams.

  • Always use the least aggressive hand cleanser for the working condition and avoid products with coarse abrasives such as pumice or sand.

  • Use gloves or personal protective equipment as needed, but remember that gloves can contribute to the issue if not changed frequently or used in conjunction with moisturizers or barrier creams.


By learning more about the issue and employing a few best practices, people in any industry can and will notice an appreciable difference in the overall health of their workplace.


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