How clean is your office? Avoiding illness this winter

As winter approaches, maintaining a healthy workforce is key for employers across the UK.

From colds and flu spread by coughs and sneezes, to cases of norovirus (an extremely infectious stomach bug), businesses should prepare for an increase in ailments during the colder seasons. Employees on sick leave, even for one or two days, have the potential to infect others due to the spread of viruses, impacting dramatically on workplace productivity.

“For small business owners, having just one employee off work due to illness can have a big impact on the day-to-day running of the business. Teams are at their most productive when everybody is healthy, happy and able to fulfil their roles,” explains Mike Davis, head of SME Direct Acquisition from AXA PPP healthcare.

In fact, according to Office for National Statistics data, minor illnesses such as stomach bugs, colds and flu accounted for 34 million days of sick leave last year (2017).

Keeping your workplace clean is one way to reduce absenteeism, as viruses can spread quickly. A study by the University of Arizona in an 80-person office building found that one infected employee had left droplets of a (non-harmful) virus on more than half of the commonly touched surfaces in the office within four hours. In addition, half of the employees in the office with him had also become infected with at least one virus.

Tips to keep your office healthy:

·        Encourage sick leave

Encouraging staff to take time off to recuperate when unwell is key to maintaining a healthy workforce.

AXA PPP healthcare research recently found that nearly a third (32 per cent) of bosses say they’d prefer employees to take time off sick rather than come to work ill. Medical Director of AXA PPP healthcare’s Health Services, Dr Yousef Habbab says ‘’Employers are encouraged to support their workers’ mental and physical health. Offering positive steps to promote wellbeing now will help support resilience in future”.

·        Bathroom reminders

Worryingly, over a quarter (27%) of UK employees admit to not washing their hands every time they visit the washroom increasing the chance of germs and bacteria spreading across the workforce. Gentle reminders for employees to wash hands thoroughly and regularly, particularly after going to the toilet, before handling food and after coughing, sneezing or blowing their noses can prompt good hygiene standards and help prevent the spread of bugs and viruses.

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·        Kitchen rules

If food is not stored correctly, or someone who is ill has touched a product, foods can become contaminated and cause food poisoning. Symptoms pass in a few days but can be detrimental to your office productivity levels if more than one colleague comes down with the illness at the same time. As a team, you should encourage employees to hygienically clean surfaces immediately after use and clear crumbs and left over food to keep germs at bay. Foot-operated bins are also better for hygiene because they reduce the risk of hands picking up germs when they touch the bin lid.

·        Flu jabs

Seasonal Flu is one of the biggest causes of short term illness. It is highly contagious and can affect people of all ages, so offering flu vaccinations is a simple and cost-effective way to help to keep your employees healthy.

Small business owners can find more tips and guidance on how to keep workforces healthy, at the small business centre here.

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