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A recent study carried out by Kimberley-Clark Professional in the US has revealed that office kitchens and break rooms harbour considerably larger amounts of germs than restrooms, prompting the company to highlight the important benefits of its recently launched Healthy Workplace Project, which is designed to reduce the risk of cross contamination of germs in offices and help employers to create a healthier more productive space for their employees.

The findings, which were officially released in May 2012, revealed that the place where employees eat and prepare their lunch topped the list of office germ hot-spots, with microwave door handles found to be the dirtiest surfaces touched by office workers on a daily basis.

Where germs thrive

Kimberley Clark Professional South Africa end-user manager Nthato Malope notes that the study is one of the most comprehensive ever conducted on identifying workplace hotspots where germs thrive.

“Hygienists from Kimberly Clark Professional’s Healthy Workplace Project collected approximately 5 000 individual swabs from office buildings housing more than 3 000 employees. The participating office buildings represented a broad cross-section of office types, including manufacturing facilities, law firms, insurance companies, healthcare companies and call centres.”

Using Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) – a measurement of a living cell’s source of energy, scientists measured the biological concentration of bacteria on a number of surfaces. The study revealed that the percentage of the office surfaces tested and found to have high levels of contamination with an ATP count of 300 or higher, included: Taps: 75%, microwave door handles: 48%, keyboards: 27%, fridge door handles: 26%, water fountain buttons: 23%, vending machine buttons: 21%.

In addition, half of all computer mice and desk phones were found to have ATP levels above 100, suggesting that while people appear to be taking more responsibility for the cleanliness of their personal spaces, there is still a need for increased awareness of the importance of hand and surface hygiene in the office.

Exposure to illness-causing germs

Malope stresses the fact that local office environments are similar to that of the US, and that through tests that Kimberly Clark Professional have conducted at a number of companies locally, it has become clear that South African office workers are regularly being exposed to illness-causing bacteria in their own workspaces.

“People are aware of the risk of germs in the restroom, but areas like break rooms have not received the same degree of attention. This study demonstrates that contamination can be spread throughout the workplace when office workers heat up lunch, make coffee or simply type on their keyboards,” he continues.

In order to address these health risks, the Kimberly Clark Professional Healthy Workplace Project has been launched nationwide to educate and encourage employers to help their staff reduce the risk of cross contamination of germs in typical office hot spots through a simple wash, wipe and sanitise protocol that enhances hand hygiene in the workplace.

The Healthy Workplace Project comprises a simple three step process, namely:

Workplace site assessment: Businesses who are interested in the Healthy Workplace Project will be offered the opportunity to receive a comprehensive assessment of their entire working environment, from reception desks to individual workstations. Following this visit and in consultation with their customer, Kimberly Clark Professional will make tailored recommendations on where to place products such as hand sanitisers and desk wipes.

Installing Kleenex branded hygiene products: With advice and practical support, the Kimberly Clark Professional team will help customers to install the best possible hygiene systems around the workplace and, most importantly, inspire staff to use them regularly – which could help prevent the spread of germs that cause a range of illnesses.

An interactive communication campaign: In addition, companies who take advantage of the assessment will receive an engagement activation pack comprising posters, stickers and other internal communication material, all carrying information and messages about workplace hygiene. The materials in the pack have been carefully designed to attract the attention of employees, and persuade them to use the hygiene products made available by their employer, helping to achieve a long-term positive change in their behaviour.

“Simple solutions such as placing sanitising wipes in kitchens and providing employees with easy access to hand sanitizers, underscored by education in hand and surface hygiene, can serve as the impetus to actively engage employees in maintaining a healthy office environment. This study demonstrates that contamination is across the workplace, and has the potential to reach people where they eat and prepare food. Nobody can avoid it entirely, but by washing, wiping and sanitising, employees can reduce their rates of cold, flu and stomach illness by up to 80%,” Malope concludes.

For more information on Kimberly-Clark Professional and The Healthy Workplace Project visit www.healthyworkplaceproject.com

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