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Should our offices have a hygiene rating?

  • A staggering 21,000 germs per square inch can be found lurking on our office chairs, desks and keyboards
  • The average office desk harbours 10 million bacteria, which is more than that of a toilet seat
  • 68% of office workers claim to be knocked sick by a lack of personal hygiene in the workplace
  • Over two-thirds of respondents claim to judge their colleagues’ hygiene
  • Over two-thirds of people believe a co-worker has made them sick 

Although perhaps appearing clean on the surface, the average office is teeming with bacteria. Office furniture supplier DBI Furniture Solutions takes a look under the microscope to discover what germs lurk within our beloved offices, and the scary effect they can have on our bodies. It argues that if kitchens have to show their hygiene rating, why not our offices? Especially in a post-Covid world.

The effects of the bacteria that reside in our offices

Type of Bacteria  Symptoms
Pseudomonas aeruginosa Often found on office keyboards. Can lead to acute or chronic illnesses, like infection of the blood, lungs (pneumonia) and of the urinary tract.
Staphylococcus aureus Most spread through skin-to-skin contact, so are often found on door handles and keyboards. Cause skin and respiratory tract infections.
Helicobacter pylori These bacteria can be found in the stomach, causing gastritis and stomach ache. They live on most surfaces within the office as a result of poor hygiene.
Firmicutes Often referred to as ‘bad gut microbes’, these bacteria live in the digestive tract and can lead to obesity when there’s an imbalance.
Salmonella Most commonly associated with food poisoning, and in some instances typhoid fever, they can lurk in office fridges or on fridge door handles.
Escherichia coli Residing in the lower intestine, they infect office environments through faecal matter. They’re commonly found on keyboards and toilet door handles as a result of poor personal hygiene. If areas are left untreated, they can lead to food poisoning.
Norovirus Otherwise known as the ‘Winter Vomiting Bug’, this bacteria is transferred by food and water that’s been contaminated with faecal matter.
Actinomycetales This highly transmissible bacteria is often found in water, and can lead to a variety of illnesses, including pneumonia.
Cyanobacterial toxins Often found on damp surfaces and stagnant water, these bacteria are thought of as one of the most powerful natural poisons. They can cause diarrhoea, vomiting and allergic reactions.
Clostridium difficile Found in the digestive tract, C.diff causes diarrhoea.
Corynebacterium diphtheriae These bacteria spread from person to person through respiratory droplets expelled through sneezing or coughing. They can lead to a high temperature, nausea and throat irritation.
Streptococcus There are two groups of this airborne bacteria. Group A can cause strep throat and various skin infections, and group B can lead to pneumonia, blood infections and meningitis.


With this in mind, could “Office Hygiene Ratings” be the route to a safer working environment? Food Hygiene Ratings evaluate restaurants focusing on three key areas;

  • How hygienically the food is handled – how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored.
  • The physical condition of the business – including cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation, pest control and other facilities.
  • How the business manages ways of keeping food safe – looking at processes, training and systems to ensure good hygiene is maintained.

The establishment will then be given an overall rating out of five to indicate cleanliness.

How would the Office Hygiene Ratings work?

Based on the Food Hygiene Rating model, the overall hygiene rating awarded to an office could be determined by similar key areas:

  • Office equipment- Is office furniture clean, upgraded regularly and how frequently is it maintained?
  • Office design/layout- How much space is available per person? Are desks shared or individual?
  • Kitchen Hygiene- Does the office have a kitchen? Is it shared? How is it maintained and cleaned?
  • Toilets- Does the office have toilets? Are they shared? How frequently are they cleaned?
  • Promoting Employee Hygiene- Is there a sanitisation offering? Has staff safety training been provided?

How would each rating be determined? 

Rating Action How the rating is achieved
0 Urgent improvement is necessary
  • Dirty, outdated office equipment
  • Unsanitary food storing
  • Extremely poor kitchen hygiene
  • Toilets deemed unsafe for use
  • No employee hygiene methods
  • Extremely poor office design layout
  • No regular safety checks
1 Major improvements are needed
  • Dirty, outdated equipment
  • Unsanitary food storing
  • Very poor kitchen hygiene
  • Very unsanitary toilets
  • Very little employee hygiene methods
  • Very poor office design layout
  • Safety checks rare
2 Still major room for improvement
  • Dirty or unsanitary equipment
  • Poor food storing
  • Poor kitchen hygiene
  • Unsanitary toilets
  • Few employee hygiene methods
  • Poor office design
  • Infrequent safety checks
3 Generally satisfactory, but some improvement necessary
  • Relatively clean and up-to-date equipment
  • Satisfactory food storing
  • Satisfactory kitchen hygiene
  • Safe toilets
  • Some employee hygiene methods
  • Satisfactory office design
  • Relatively frequent safety checks
4 Establishment deemed as a safe place to work
  • Clean and up-to-date equipment
  • Safe food storing
  • Good kitchen hygiene
  • Clean toilets
  • Employee hygiene methods in place
  • Safe office design
  • Frequent safety checks
5 Excellent safety standards
  • All equipment clean and up-to-date
  • Very safe food storing
  • Very good kitchen hygiene
  • Very clean toilets
  • All employee hygiene methods in place
  • Very safe office design
  • Daily safety checks


So, could office hygiene ratings really be the future? It would certainly make for a much safer, healthier environment, and DBI Furniture Solutions encourages business owners to start making their offices as hygienic as they can now. This could mean providing staff with relevant health and safety training to warn them about the risks that bacteria build-up can cause, making it a rule to sanitise before and after entering the workplace. Regular checks should also be carried out to keep high-risk areas as clean as possible, and when embarking on an office redesign, business owners should consider how their office layout will affect safety.

About Sarah OBeirne

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