More Than Just Compliance: The Real-World Health Risks of a Dirty Workplace

The following is a guest post from ServiceMaster Commercial Cleaning, a Virginia-based janitorial cleaning franchise. 

No matter where you work, chances are you have a least a few OSHA-mandated posters hanging in your workplace.  The chances are also good that you’re so used to seeing them that they’ve just become part of the background noise.  But have you ever stopped to think about why those posters are required to be there?

As it turns out, there are actually a lot of serious health risks you can encounter just from going to work—even if you just work in an office, never mind an industrial facility where there is heavy machinery in use.

Many of those risks can be mitigated by keeping your workplace clean and actually following all the pesky rules and guidelines outlined on all those compliance posters.  Staying motivated to do so is a lot easier when you understand the threats those guidelines are designed to protect you from.  Here is a rundown of some of the top hazards caused by a dirty workplace.

More illnesses. Viruses and bacteria live for a long time on dirty surfaces. Bacterial infections, like strep throat and Salmonella, can be spread by touching surfaces 1 to 24 hours after an infected person touches them. Viral illnesses, including the common cold, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C, can easily live for 7 days outside the human body. Norovirus – the stomach flu bug – has been found to survive for weeks on public surfaces.

Slips, trips, and falls. When a workplace is unkempt, it’s easier for someone to trip and fall. This is a major hazard that can cause injury. Old, worn carpet, for example, is a tripping hazard that puts people at risk. Flooring should be inspected and maintained often. Keep clutter to a minimum. Don’t mop and clean floors during heavy traffic times, to avoid creating hazardous situations, and use bright warning signs.

Missed days and compensation. If someone becomes ill or gets injured as a result of a dirty workplace, it comes with big costs for the company. Employees will miss work, causing reduced productivity – in fact, illness is the top cause of workplace inefficiency. Depending on the severity of the issue, the company may also be liable for workers’ compensation or even a lawsuit from a customer. These kinds of costs can quickly spiral into a major financial problem.

Increased health care costs. The cleanliness of your workplace is a direct contributor to increased health care costs across the company. As workers become ill and seek medical care, this causes a strain on the health coverage employers provide. One study by the National Institutes of Health found that hand washing alone could account for a 20% variation in company health care costs.

Environmental strain. A dirty workplace also puts a day-to-day strain on your employees. People who have dust and pollen allergies will notice an increase in their allergy symptoms. People may try to clean surfaces themselves, using improper cleaners and risking physical harm. And everyone – employees and customers alike – who can see dirty, grimy surfaces is likely to feel put off by the company’s lack of care to their surroundings.

Wear and tear. Don’t forget about the cost to your equipment and furniture. When dust and buildup are allowed to get deep into machinery, it can malfunction and its lifespan may be reduced. Same goes for carpeting, furniture, curtains, and other fabrics – dirt and oils cause them to appear tattered and need replacement much earlier than if they were kept clean.

What Should We Do?

The best way to avoid the risks that come with a dirty workplace is to establish fresh routines that keep everything clean. Here are some tips for maintaining a clean, healthy workplace.

Create hand washing habits. Proper hand-washing is the #1 way to prevent the flu and other commonly-spread illnesses. Post workplace signs that remind people about the benefits of proper hand washing.

Avoid tripping hazards. Inspect your entire workplace for worn and broken flooring that could present a hazard. Invest in signs that warn people about slipping and tripping risks. This is particularly important in heavily-used entryways and areas that have storage or clutter.

Upgrade surfaces. Instead of keeping old furniture that’s dirty and tattered, invest in new, hypoallergenic furniture that’s easier to keep clean. If dust is a problem, switch fabric curtains to window blinds and opt for hardwood floors instead of carpet.

Identify high-risk zones. The three dirtiest things in the average workspace are the keyboard, mouse, and phone. Beyond the desktop, the work areas most likely to have surface-borne bacteria and viruses are break room sink handles, microwave door handles, refrigerator door handles, water fountain buttons, and vending machine buttons – all because they’re heavily used and not routinely cleaned. Target these areas, plus all floors, furniture, and work surfaces, for frequent cleaning.

Schedule regular cleanings. A commercial cleaning company can take a weight off your shoulders. At your direction, they can handle cleaning in the off hours, keeping everything out of sight of your customers and employees. You won’t have to worry about grimy buildup because every surface is routinely cleaned by experts.

Maintaining a clean workspace is about more than just staying compliant with regulations and keeping lawsuits at bay. Everyone prefers being in an environment that’s fresh and clean. It’s an investment in your employees, your customers, and the future of your company.

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