How To Prevent Illness Spreading In The Workplace

Workplace illnesses are not only unpleasant for the employee and their colleagues, but also contribute to a great deal of lost productivity. According to the Office for National Statistics, over 185.6 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in 2022, translating to an average of 5.7 days per worker. While this may seem relatively minor, the resulting loss of working hours will quickly build up for large-scale employers, making infection control a key priority for businesses.

From well-known illnesses such as COVID-19 and norovirus to everyday infections such as the flu and common cold, catching an illness in work is detrimental to both your staff’s physical and mental health. Recovery from an illness can be a lengthy process, meaning critical staff will not be operating at their best, or in more serious circumstances, will be kept away from their post when they’re needed the most.

On the other hand, sick employees who come into work will perform slower, make more mistakes, and infect others with their illness. This makes it all too easy for a contagious disease to spread through your workforce like wildfire, triggering a wave of absences and impacting your business’s bottom line. Such a prolonged plague of illness in your workplace will no doubt cause stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues for your staff.

In Vanguard’s latest blog, we’ll examine how exactly the transmission of illness can be prevented in the workplace. We’ll discuss how transmission usually occurs, and the preventative measures that can be taken to reduce further infections. Finally, we’ll discuss how Vanguard Cleaning can elevate the hygiene of your premises, and keep your business healthy and profitable.


How Are Illnesses Transmitted In The Workplace?

The first and most important thing to remember about infection control is to assume that everyone could be contagious. Regardless of how safe you think it may be, the correct procedures must always be followed to avoid transmission. This is because people are infectious in the incubation period, in which a person has already been exposed to the pathogen but has yet to show any symptoms. During this period, they might unknowingly spread germs across the entire workplace and infect dozens more individuals.

Transmission of germs usually occurs through the following ways:

Breathing In Airborne Germs

One of the most well-known forms of transmission, airborne germs are expelled by someone coughing, sneezing, talking, or even breathing. Air droplets will fall on nearby objects/surfaces, or be inhaled by anyone passing by. Once enough droplets are taken in through the nose or mouth, the pathogen will multiply and spread within your body, leading to the development of symptoms.

Touching Contaminated Objects

Touching pathogens on a surface, instead of inhaling them directly from the air, is the most common form of transmission. By coming into contact with a contaminated surface and then touching your face, you allow pathogens to get into your bloodstream and spread. Touch is responsible for transferring over 80% of germs, with some surfaces such as door handles, toilets, and sinks being particularly hazardous.

Ingesting Contaminated Food

While most people know to avoid spoiled or out of date items, pieces of food can become contaminated in other ways. The most common way is cross-contamination, where food touches another surface with pathogens that transfer across. This can be caused by poor storage or cooking practices, poor facility hygiene, or lack of handwashing, which all contribute to a whopping 2.4 million estimated foodborne illnesses every single year.

Other Causes

Other causes of transmission include skin to skin contact, such as intimacy or sharing personal items like clothes, and contact with bodily fluids, such as saliva, urine or blood. In most cases, your skin will act as a barrier to pathogens, but if an open cut or parts of your face come into contact with germs, there is nothing to stop them from entering your bloodstream.


How Can Transmission Be Prevented In Your Workplace?

By following these important methods, the transmission of illness can be vastly reduced.

1. Keep Your Workplace Clean

While it may seem obvious, keeping your workplace clean is an important but overlooked way to reduce illness. Common items that are used every day, such as keyboards, printers, and telephones, can harbour 20,000 more bacteria than the average toilet seat. Considering that workers will spend much of their time during the day touching these items, it becomes all too easy to transmit pathogens to the face and become infected.

To tackle this, known problem areas need to be regularly dusted and disinfected to reduce the risk of infection. Take extra care with electricals, making sure to unplug them before cleaning.  As for other areas in your workplace – floors, bathrooms, and surfaces should be washed with warm water and detergent weekly, whereas ceilings and walls should be tended to once every six months. Maintaining a good level of hygiene around your facility is vital to reducing employee illness.


2. Practice Good Hygiene

Handwashing plays an important role in reducing the transmission of infections. Regularly washing your hands with warm water and soap, especially after eating and using the toilet, will stop harmful pathogens from lingering on your hands. Studies have shown this can reduce the frequency of respiratory illnesses by 45%, a significant drop by simply changing an everyday habit.

As an employer, it may be useful to place infographics or instructions above sinks around your premises, informing staff how to properly wash their hands, whereas comms can be sent out re-iterating the importance of handwashing. This will not only help prevent illness, but also places key emphasis on employee health, and help ease distress caused by illness. Of course, hand sanitiser stations of the type seen during the COVID-19 pandemic may also work well.

Depending on the type of your workplace, proper PPE such as gloves, overalls, eye protection, and face shields may be necessary to prevent infection. This is prevalent in medical environments such as hospitals or surgeries, or when dealing with hazardous cleaning chemicals. In addition to PPE, make sure to have a first aid kit on hand with plasters to cover any cuts or abrasions, and a supply of disinfectant if dealing with bodily fluids.


3. Keep Your Kitchen/Canteen Clean

As the time comes for staff to take their lunch hour or to eat a meal, kitchens and canteens are key vectors for bacteria transmission. In addition to the standard risk of contaminated food, kitchen facilities like microwaves, fridges, kettles, and sinks can quickly become grimy if used often. Regular cleaning is required to keep the area hygienic and ready for food preparation, whereas kitchen bins should be routinely emptied to avoid the build up of smelly and hazardous rubbish.

While some employees may be tempted to eat at their desk to catch up on work or enjoy a tv programme, this practice presents key health risks. Crumbs and sauce will collect in your keyboard and mouse, spreading bacteria and causing damage to these sensitive electricals. As we’ve previously discussed, more bacteria on everyday items means more bacteria making its way onto your face and into your bloodstream, so it’s best to avoid eating at your desk as much as possible.


4. Make Use Of Storage

Reducing clutter and keeping your workspace tidy will also help reduce illnesses. A desk piled up with papers and clutter is much more difficult to clean, and therefore will become a haven to pathogens – solve this by placing items in desks and drawers to keep your desk space free. This not only makes the surface easier to clean, but also stops harmful air droplets from landing on your day-to-day stationary.

Beyond physical health benefits, a tidy workspace will improve employee morale and ease mental health concerns about unhealthy workspaces.


5. Promote A Healthy Work Culture

There’s no point in maintaining a clean workplace only to have a sick employee walk around and spread their infection. According to recent data, a shocking 9 in 10 workers admit to coming to the office sick, with 33% saying they always come in when under the weather. The reasoning behind this may range from staff being nervous about falling behind, to employees demonstrating commitment to their boss or employer.

Regardless, staff should be encouraged to stay home if they become ill, otherwise they risk spreading their illness to others and causing further absences. There is already legislation in place for this in the food industry, but the same principle can and should be applied to other sectors, with sickly employees needing to stay home until 48 hours have elapsed without symptoms. While this may seem drastic, the pandemic has led to more and more businesses offering work from home capabilities, so many workers will have the flexibility to do just that.

Either way, creating a culture where employees are expected to come into work when sick does much more harm than good, especially when working from home is a viable alternative.


How Vanguard Can Prevent Illness Spreading In Your Workplace

Illness is an ongoing problem for many companies, with staff absences affecting the logistics, productivity, and bottom line of your business. A dirty workplace not only spreads infection, impacting the physical health of your staff, but can also worsen mental health and lower morale. For these reasons, investing in a commercial cleaning service to freshen up your premises will bring new life to your workforce and prevent the transmission of harmful infections.

Vanguard are experts in commercial cleaning, ensuring your workplace remains spotless for the continuing health of you and your employees. Being founded as a medical cleaning company in 2002, we possess over two decades of experience in infection control procedures and have helped dozens of establishments pass their audits and inspections. Additionally, our staff training is accredited by the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc), meaning our cleaners are among the most skilled and qualified in the industry.

This all blends together in our industry-leading approach to cleaning. Vanguard tends to facilities of all types and sizes, encompassing smaller office spaces and larger industrial facilities. Whatever your requirements may be, rest assured that we tailor-make our services to meet the unique requirements of your business.

We offer a spectrum of specialist services to further enhance the cleanliness of your site:

To learn more about Vanguard Cleaning, and to receive a free, no obligation quote from our team, feel free to reach out today.