Keep it clean

Keep it clean

Businesses are so preoccupied by health and safety that they often forget the importance of basic hygiene. JACO DE KLERK investigates the significance of hygiene in the workplace.

The benefit of hygiene is one of those things that you usually learn at a tender age. Countless parents have scolded their children about taking a bath, washing their hands and brushing their teeth. Various initiatives are also undertaken by pre-schools to enlighten children about the benefits and safety of hygiene.

It is thus handled as if it forms part of people’s general knowledge, with most of society not paying it much conscious attention at all – and forgetting the scolding their parents gave them. Most people in the professional arena would laugh at a lesson in personal hygiene, seeing this topic as basic common sense. But personal hygiene may not be as insignificant as one would presume…

Individuals often forget that a lack of hygiene has an affect on themselves and those around them. Unwashed hands, for example, can pass infections or viruses from one person to another. To state the (what most would say as being) obvious: hygiene is crucial for people who work with other people – such as restaurant workers, dentists and nurses.

In the United States, approximately a 100 000 deaths can indirectly be attributed to poor personal hygiene, with dirty hands increasing the number of hospital-acquired infections. The main culprit of these infections, hitching a ride on the unwashed hands of hospital staff, is a little known but highly infectious bacteria called Clostridium difficile (C. diff). Its sticky spores lurk on hospital floors, bed rails and door knobs, which then cling onto any passing host.

Over the past decade the number of C. diff infections has doubled, even though the spread of the bacteria can be prevented by the simple task of washing one’s hands. A study of eight US hospitals showed that hospital workers, on average, wash their hands less than half the number of times they should.

A lack of personal hygiene can also lead to a staph infection called Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), a bacterial infection resistant to most antibiotics. If left untreated MRSA can cause serious illnesses, such as blood diseases and pneumonia.

Hygiene is also an important way of controlling other hazards, for example chemical and workplace contaminants in the mining industry. Miners should thus use the showers which the employer provides, in order to protect themselves and their families against these hazards.

Keep it clean  Mine employees should also wash their work clothes at work, if possible, to safeguard their families further. While there may only be a small amount of contaminants sticking to clothes and skin – and which seem unlikely to pose a great threat to family members – daily exposure (even though it may be small) could add up over time to a notable contamination threat.

A classic example of this “spreading hazard” involves asbestos; where wives of asbestos workers developed asbestosis from exposure to their husbands’ work clothes. Children have similarly developed lead poisoning due to exposure to lead which came home on their parents’ clothes.

Often the lack of personal hygiene is caused by depression or the death of a loved one, which makes it an indicator that an individual might be in need of help. Depressed or grieving individuals sometimes forgo regular bathing and grooming. At other times, depression can be hormonal or psychological, which can also trigger similar inadequate hygiene practices. Employers should thus handle employees with care if their hygiene is sub-standard.

Personal hygiene must also be seen as a matter of professional courtesy, with everyone entitled to an office environment free from offensive smells and sights. When a colleague is not adhering to hygiene etiquette, it needs to be presented to them as a matter of professionalism – meeting company standards and job performance, as opposed to personal criticism.

Employees who are not properly groomed not only run the risk of being shunned or even ridiculed by fellow employees, but also by clients, which will reflect negatively on the company. Problems such as body odour may also cause a person to lack confidence around other people, leading to the loss of a business deal.

A person who is properly groomed and bathes regularly is more likely to exude confidence. Such a person is also more likely to be better at networking and gaining new clients, be more successful on the job and in their overall relationships.

The following five tips (as provided by Consolidated e-Care) will help to ensure that you are not the one lacking in personal hygiene:

1. Wash at least once a day.
Water and antibacterial soap helps to combat body odour problems throughout the day.

2. Use deodorant.
Bacteria reacting with the skin causes body odour, which deodorant with zinc or aluminium can kill. A doctor should be consulted for effective alternatives if there are any concerns about the safety of deodorants or anti-perspirants.

3. Wash your work clothes often.
Clean clothes are a must, because clothes absorb odours during the day and thus need to be washed regularly. Odour-fighting detergent may also provide some relief.

4. Take care of your teeth.
Bad breath can be caused by dental problems, smoking, a dry mouth, some medications, diet, or lack of oral hygiene. Brush and floss regularly (it is also essential to clean the tongue during the dental routine) and use mouthwash. Try to visit the dentist for a check-up twice a year.

5. Be self-aware.
Constantly monitor your own appearance and behaviour. Try to see yourself from others’ perspectives and make sure that you take pride in your appearance.

It is clear that the importance of hygiene shouldn’t be taken lightly. It extends beyond the desire for social acceptance and a positive first impression; sufficient hygiene goes a long way towards protecting people against harmful bacteria – which makes it a matter of life and death.

Published by

SHEQ Management

SHEQ MANAGEMENT is the definitive source for reliable, accurate and pertinent information to guarantee environmental health and safety in the workplace.
Thelma Pugh, MD of Federated Employers Mutual, has had a 24-year career with the company.
Prev Health and safety heroine
Next Shabangu shake-up on the cards?