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'Dirty hands' in UK businesses

Published 8th July, 2011 by Neil Nixon

'Dirty hands' in UK businesses

A European study into workplace hygiene by Initial shows that hygiene standards across the UK are severely lacking, with only one in three British workers washing their hands after a visit to the toilet.

63% of women and 73% of men in British businesses admit that they don't always wash their hands after going to the toilet; only one in three Britons always do. Put another way, if you shake hands with three people today, it is possible that two of those people didn’t wash their hands the last time they went to the loo.

The report also revealed that:
• One in five (22%) workers across the UK don’t have access to a soap dispenser in the toilets and kitchens at work - the equivalent of more than 5 million people across the country - in contrast to the 89% of German workers who do have access.
• 20% of UK workers believe the toilets where they work pose a potential health risk.
• Less than half of the UK workforce (39%) is provided with sanitizing gel, despite widespread concerns and government advertising around the need for cleanliness to stop the spread of disease.
• 21% of UK workers believe that hygiene standards at work have suffered as the economic conditions have worsened; the second highest in Europe.
• 37% of UK workers believe that the last time they were off sick from work was because of something picked up in the workplace.
• The majority of UK respondents generally believe their domestic kitchens and toilets to be considerably more hygienic than their working environments.

Initial carried out extensive research across Europe, interviewing more than 6000 people across seven countries, including 2100 in the UK. Peter Barratt, technical manager at Initial, said: “The fact that only a third of workers in the UK wash their hands after using the toilet is a cause for concern. Faecal micro-organisms are ejected from toilets and urinals into the air during flushing and settle on washroom surfaces. The spread of cross contamination in the workplace is a real health threat. We know from past academic research that the easier it is for men and women to wash their hands, the more likely they are to do so. This research shows that businesses can and should do more to ensure that workers are given proper access to the facilities they require to maintain hygiene standards.”

Other findings from the poll reinforce the importance of workplace hygiene on the health of individuals and a company’s reputation:
• Over two-thirds of people (73% in the UK) would think significantly less of an employer if it failed to show a serious and responsible approach to hygiene.
• At least three quarters (79% in the UK) believe that poor hygiene standards in the workplace demonstrate that an employer does not care about the health of its workers.
• Yet across Europe only half believe colleagues or those in charge take a very serious and responsible approach to hygiene at work (52% in the UK believe this of colleagues, 53% believe this of those in charge).
• Interestingly UK respondents felt that Germany has the highest standards of hygiene in the workplace (46%), and that France and the UK had the lowest (30%).

“The surprising results of this poll clearly show that there is a great deal more to be done to challenge hygiene behaviour to keep employees happy and healthy,” concluded Barratt. “Initial supports businesses by providing accessible products and services in all the places people need them to make hygiene easy, obvious and routine.”