Beat the bugs!
Personal hygiene isn’t just about combed hair and brushed teeth; it’s also vital for health and safety in the workplace. CLAIRE RENCKEN explores how workers can minimise risks to themselves and those they come into contact with.
By now we’ve all read the stats. As reported in the July/August edition of SHEQ MANAGEMENT, the average desk contains 400 times more germs than a toilet seat. When it comes to restrooms, we’re all pretty aware of the risks and germs, but areas such as office kitchens and break rooms actually pose more of a threat in terms of germs. You’re at risk when heating up your lunch, making tea or coffee, typing away on your keyboard, and even when simply making a phone call at your desk.
So what can we do to minimise cross-contamination? Firstly, remember what your mom taught you when you were a child – wash your hands properly and regularly. This doesn’t mean simply running some water over your hands for a couple of seconds either. Here’s how to wash your hands properly:
• Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap;
• Make a lather and scrub them well; remembering the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails; continue for at least 20 seconds;
• Rinse well under running water; then
• Dry your hands using a clean towel or air drier.
Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them. If soap and water aren’t available, an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60 percent alcohol can be used. However, while sanitisers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, they don’t eliminate all types of germs.
Secondly, employers should install the best possible hygiene systems around the workplace, and encourage staff to use them regularly. Simple solutions such as placing sanitising wipes in germ hotspots such as kitchens, and providing employees with easy access to hand sanitisers, can all improve hand and surface hygiene. This will result in much less cross-contamination and thereby minimise absenteeism due to illness. After all, one person’s flu-infected hand can contaminate up to seven surfaces.
For those working in riskier environments, hygiene in the workplace extends to using the correct personal protective equipment (PPE), particularly in terms of eye and respiratory protection.
In terms of eye safety, Honeywell Safety Products offers the following insights:
• It’s every employer’s responsibility to assess eye safety hazards in the workplace and take measures to ensure employee safety.
• Safety managers must understand the unique safety requirements for their workplace environment.
• Once any hazards are identified, it is critical to determine which products best suit the needs of employees who work in this environment each day. In addition to protective eyewear, this includes installing emergency eyewash stations in the event that an accident occurs.
Mitigating against eye injuries can prevent workers from suffering vision damage or loss while helping companies to avoid productivity losses as well as legal and financial liability.
It is critical that companies establish effective safety policies based on regulatory requirements and the specific eye protection needs of the workplace environment.
A plant supervisor or safety specialist should conduct an analysis and hazard assessment of the work areas, job applications, access routes and the equipment. There should also be an examination of any past eye accident/injury reports. Vision testing should also be a part of the safety programme, as uncorrected vision is a contributing factor to injuries.
The eye protection chosen for specific work environments depends on the nature and degree of the potential hazard, the circumstances of exposure and other personal and workplace factors. Eye and face protection is generally of three different types: safety spectacles, goggles and face shields. Safety spectacles are the most common form of protection and are designed with side protection. Goggles form a protective seal around both eyes. There are two basic types; impact and chemical. Chemical goggles have hooded or indirect ventilation paths to protect the worker from chemical splashes. Impact goggles have direct ventilation holes and protect against direct impact or large particles. In addition, there are face shields which are generally used in welding, grinding or sanding applications. However, these are considered secondary protection and must be worn in conjunction with protective eyewear or goggles.
When it comes to respiratory protection, employee participation is a key piece of the puzzle often missing in respirator programmes, says Afrox Safety Equipment & Accessories. Worker participation is vital as the respirator needs to be fitted to the face of the worker. Respirators must be comfortable or they won’t be used, and they must fit well or they won’t be effective. Respirators are designed to protect the wearer against deficiency of oxygen, contaminants in particulate form, and contaminants in gaseous form. Understanding the hazards, in conjunction with proper training, will increase the likelihood of employees using, storing and maintaining the devices properly. If employers are actively trying to find the best fit, workers are more likely to wear the devices – reducing the risk of illness and lost workdays.
A general rule of thumb is that respirators should be worn if there is uncertainty about the extent of the atmospheric hazard.
Here are a few pointers for choosing the right respirator:
• The respirator must completely cover the nose and mouth;
• Ensure that supplied-air respirators are airtight;
• Ensure that you can breathe properly;
• Do not use damaged, clogged or dirty respirators.
Admittedly, no-one can avoid everyday exposure to germs and contamination in the workplace, and accidents do happen, but taking the right precautions can do a lot to minimise the risks.