Impact of Workplace Hand Hygiene on Employer Costs, Absenteeism, and Employee Perceptions

It has often been estimated that a large portion of infections are caused by hand transmission. Despite increasing awareness of the importance of hand washing and a range of other hygiene behaviors, many still become sick in the workplace, where viruses and bacteria can survive for hours to months on inanimate surfaces, for example, telephones and doorknobs, and spread to other individuals via direct or indirect contact. The typical office desk harbors more than 10 million bacteria, 400 times more germs than found on a standard toilet seat. High bacterial counts have been detected on elevator buttons, office phones, water fountains, computer keyboards, and vending machine buttons; particularly high viral counts were detected on desks, computer mice, and phones, especially in cubicles. Researchers swabbing 4800 surfaces in office buildings found “officially dirty” readings were highest on break room sink faucet handles (75% incidence of being dirty), microwave door handles (48% incidence of being dirty), computer keyboards (27% incidence of being dirty), and refrigerator door handles (26% incidence of being dirty).

Health-related work losses cost US employers more than $260 billion each year, the indirect costs of poor health, most notably absenteeism and attending work while sick (known as “presenteeism”), exceed direct medical costs by two- to three-fold. The total economic cost of the common cold in the United States is estimated at $40 billion annually, only half of which is attributed to missed workdays. 

This is an extract from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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