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Hygiene in the Workspace Requires Far More Than Hand Washing

No one can dispute the importance of washing one’s hands, particularly after using the toilet. While it is a necessary habit in the home, it can be even more important at work, where there are often large numbers of people sharing a relatively confined space. Today, many companies even practice hot-desking, a system in which employees working different shifts share the same workspace. In such circumstances, strict hand hygiene is important in order to minimise the risk of spreading communicable diseases via items, such as desk surfaces, keyboards, mice, and touch screens. However, safeguarding employees while they are at work can actually involve a great deal more than making sure the staff loos are adequately stocked with disinfectant hand sprays.

Contaminated surfaces are not the only route by which microorganisms can gain access to our bodies. The very air that we breathe, typically, contains more than 1 800 different species of bacteria and, although the majority are non-pathogenic and pose no risk to health, some species do. To establish infection requires a given number of pathogens known as the minimum infective dose (MID). Air conditioning can pose a serious hygiene risk in the workspace. As well as producing a moist, cool airstream, they act to remove particulate matter from the incoming air, including bacteria and spores. These then become trapped and concentrated in the filters. Once they become saturated, if not replaced, the trapped particles can be re-released, forming an aerosolised suspension in the surrounding area, which could contain concentrations of pathogenic organisms that may far-exceed the MID.

A classic example of an infection spread in this manner is legionnaire’s disease – a potentially fatal respiratory infection caused by a member of a group of bacteria known as Legionella. The disease may also be dispersed via hot water systems. It is, therefore, important that air conditioners and hot water systems are subjected to regular monitoring and servicing as part of a comprehensive programme of hygiene measures in the workspace.

It is not only infectious organisms that pose a threat to health through inhalation, however. Many old buildings still have structures made from asbestos – a building material chosen for its exceptional insulating and fire-resistant properties. Long-term exposure to asbestos fibres has since been identified as being responsible for a chronic, debilitating lung condition known as asbestosis that could lead to cardiac failure as the condition progresses. In some case, it can also give rise to an aggressive form of malignancy that affects the lining of the chest wall, and is known as mesothelioma. One of the more serious threats, stringent efforts to detect, remove and replace any asbestos structures may also need to be among the hygiene precaution applied in the workspace and may require parts of it to be evacuated during the clean-up process.

Whereas it may not be much of a problem to keep the toilet facilities and working surfaces clean if one employs some good janitorial staff, the more advanced measures tend to be best carried out by experienced professionals with the necessary skills and experience.

Accredited with the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS), IOH Solutions offers cost-effective and innovative hygiene control measures for the workspace, in full compliance with local, national, and international legislation.