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Expect the uninfected

When it comes to infections we are constantly told that prevention is better than cure. CHT investigates what steps can be taken to make sure you don’t have an outbreak in your workplace

So first of all, what is an infection? Well, according to medicinenet.com it’s: “The invasion and multiplication of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites that are not normally present within the body. An infection may cause no symptoms and be subclinical, or it may cause symptoms and be clinically apparent. An infection may remain localised, or it may spread through the blood or lymphatic vessels to become systemic (bodywide). Microorganisms that live naturally in the body are not considered infections. For example, bacteria that normally live within the mouth and intestine are not infections.”

Simple enough? If not the Simple English Wikipedia describes them as: “When another organism gets into a person’s body and causes harm.”

They are usually caught through physical contact with another human being, or touching something they have just touched. In a world where people can travel anywhere in the world in a matter of hours, where hundreds of people cluster aboard trains like sardines and where some office buildings house thousands of people it is hardly surprising infections are flourishing.

There isn’t an awful lot cleaning firms can do about airborne viruses but fulsome cleaning routines can certainly make a dent in the presence of microorganisms in a workplace, though it is impossible to eradicate them entirely. In fact, just killing them may not even be enough, experts advocate the removal of germs otherwise the remains will just be used as food by the next invading army.

Still, prevention remains much easier (and much more practical) than cure. In fact the steps toward prevention are much simpler than you might imagine. The NHS gives this advice:


  • Use disposable cloths or paper towels when possible.
  • Re-usable cloths should be disinfected after each use.
  • Wash brushes in a dishwasher regularly or clean with detergent and warm water after each use.


  • Use two buckets for mopping – one for detergent and the other for rinsing.
  • Mops and buckets should be cleaned, disinfected and dried after each use.


  • Keep the U-bend and lavatory bowl clean by flushing after each use.
  • Use a lavatory cleaner and brush every few days.
  • Limescale should be regularly removed using a descaling product.
  • Keep the lavatory seat, handle and rim clean by using a disinfectant.


  • Hygienically clean baths and sinks frequently.
  • Use disinfectant if they’ve been used by someone who is ill.


  • Clean shower trays as above for baths and sinks.
  • If a shower hasn’t been used for a long period, let it run with hot water before using it.


  • Keep tiles and grout in good condition and clean them often.
  • Hygienically clean or launder the shower curtain frequently, depending on how often it’s used.


  • Ensure food preparation surfaces are hygienically clean.
  • Use separate chopping boards for meat (including fish and poultry) and vegetables.
  • Wash and dry your hands after handling high-risk foods such as raw meat.
  • Hygienically clean surfaces immediately after use.


  • Clean floors regularly to remove visible dirt with warm water and detergent.
  • If soiled with vomit, urine or faeces, the floor should be cleaned using a disposable cloth and warm water, then disinfected. Make sure the floor is dry before allowing children on it.


  • Periodically clean carpets and soft furnishings using a suitable product.
  • Carpets and furnishings can be hygienically cleaned by steam cleaning.
  • Curtains can be cleaned by laundering or disinfected by steam cleaning.

iStock_000014806580IllustraPETS AND OTHER ANIMALS

  • Keep pet food separate from human food.
  • Always wash your hands after touching animals, their food, toys, cages and litter trays.
  • Dishes, utensils and tin openers used for pet food should be stored separately.


  • Clean hard or plastic toys by washing them and storing them once they’re clean and dry.
  • Some soft toys can be cleaned in the washing machine.
  • All toys and equipment should be added to a regular cleaning rota.


  • Wash your hands after handling dirty laundry.
  • To prevent the spread of germs, all underwear, towels and household linen should be washed at 60C (140F) or at 40C (104F) with a bleach-based laundry product.
  • Run the washing machine on empty once a week, either at a high temperature or with a chemical disinfectant to prevent the growth of germs.
  • Don’t leave laundry in the washing machine, as any remaining germs can multiply rapidly.


  • Foot-operated bins are better for hygiene because they reduce the risk of hands picking up germs when they touch the bin lid.
  • Always wash your hands after handling waste material.
  • Throw rubbish away carefully to avoid attracting vermin and insects.

At first this might sound incredibly straight forward, then you realise that a whole plethora of companies give step by step advice on how to wash your hands properly. The Centre for Disease Control, the World Health Organisation, the NHS, there is even a website called washyourhandsofthem.com.

According to ons.gov.uk over 131 million working days were lost in 2013 due to illness.

It is almost impossible to work out how many of these were down to infections rather than broken bones etc, but the proportion is doubtless high. hse.gov reports that you are most likely to come into contact with micro organisms if you work on a farm or in healthcare but it is possible (even likely) just about anywhere. Ironically the people who are safest might be those scientists who work with microorganisms for a living. The same site reports that the most common type of infection transmitted in the workplace is diarrhoeal disease and if you still don’t side with prevention over cure after hearing that you never will.


Another reason this is so important is that our main line of defense, antibiotics, is becoming less and less reliable. In May of this year the BBC reported that overuse of the medicines has seen microorganisms evolve a far greater resistance leading to things like outbreaks of MRSA in hospitals.

The article explains that: Superbugs, resistant to antimicrobials, are estimated to account for 700,000 deaths each year.

But modelling up to the year 2050, by Rand Europe and auditors KPMG, suggests “10 million people could die each year – equivalent to one every three seconds.”


Still if all this talk of illness in the workplace has depressed you, bear in mind that in Beneden Health ran a study of over 1,000 workers and 1,000 bosses to find out the most incredible (meaning ridiculous) reasons that people have given for missing work. Some of CHT’s favourties include:

  • A can of baked beans landed on my big toe
  • I was swimming too fast and smacked my head on the poolside
  • My dog has had a big fright and I don’t want to leave him
  • My hamster died
  • I’ve injured myself during sex
  • My mum has died (this was the second time the person used this excuse)
  • I am hallucinating
  • My new girlfriend bit me in a delicate place
  • My fish is sick
  • My toe is trapped in the bath tap
  • I’m in A&E as I got a clothes peg stuck on my tongue
  • I’ve got a sore finger

About Sarah OBeirne

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