Everyone should maintain personal hygiene at work. It’s professional, considerate, and creates a healthier environment for everyone. Good workplace hygiene can lead to a drastic reduction of illness, increasing staff attendance and productivity. On the other hand, poor hygiene practice can pose a health and safety risk to a team, an office, or even an entire company.
From the first day of employment, your employees should understand the company’s workplace hygiene and personal hygiene policies. If an employee’s lack of personal hygiene becomes a problem, you must address it (even if it means having a serious conversation that’s awkward for all involved).
Why is hygiene important in the workplace?
People spread germs and pose a health risk in countless ways. They sneeze without a tissue, leave dirty cups in the office kitchen, and use the bathroom without washing their hands. Think these are minor issues? Think again.
Sick leave is a huge cost for small businesses in Australia, reported to cost each company a whopping $20,000 every year on average. Hygiene measures are important because they contribute to a healthy workplace and a healthy workforce, meaning staff are happier, less likely to take sick leave and more productive. For both employers and employees, it’s a win-win scenario.
Examples of poor hygiene practices at work
So, what does poor hygiene look like in the workplace? It can take many forms. The hygiene practices your company needs to follow will depend on what the business does. If you run a restaurant or a bakery, you’ll need to take all the necessary hygiene precautions to maintain safe handling of food. If you work in a chemical plant, you’ll need a strict hygiene policy for using hazardous substances.
In a general sense, poor hygiene practice could be any of the following:
Handling food without washing their hands.
Leaving paper towels, toilet paper and body fluids on the bathroom floor.
Not adhering to a clean desk policy by leaving unwashed plates and clutter in a private workspace.
Not regularly showering or wearing soiled clothing.
How do you maintain a hygienic workplace?
Implement a workplace hygiene policy
Provide staff with a written workplace hygiene policy. Inform them of your intentions and expectations for a clean workplace. This helps communicate to staff that a hygienic workplace is a serious issue. A hygiene policy might include an employer’s expectations about:
Personal hygiene rules – Including regularly washing hair, hand washing and grooming.
Not attending work with a contagious illness – This can help with infection control.
A clean desk policy- Employees might be responsible for cleaning and tidying their own desk.
A kitchen hygiene policy – Including how to prepare food safely and maintain good hygiene practices while preparing food, eating and cleaning up afterwards.
Rules to ensure staff maintain hygiene in the staff bathroom.
This hygiene policy can be included in your employee handbook and shared via internal communication (you could send email reminders and place posters around the workspace).
Keep bathrooms and kitchens clean
Bathrooms and kitchens are a breeding ground for bacteria and a workplace environment where it’s vital to have high levels of hygiene discipline.
To maintain basic hygiene in your bathrooms, ensure they are well stocked with antibacterial soap, toilet paper and hand towels. You should also remind employees using the bathroom to wash their hands and leave the sink and cubicles clean for other staff.
Keeping the office kitchen hygienic is also crucial and you should ensure all staff clean up after themselves when preparing and eating food. Pay close attention to high-use areas, such as the fridge, surfaces and sink. Regular cleaning and maintenance of utensils and equipment is a must in any workplace hygiene policy.
Provide antibacterial wipes, sanitiser and tissues
Provide items such as antibacterial wipes, sanitisers, and tissues to help your staff maintain a clean and hygienic workspace. Employees are more likely to use these items if they are readily available.
Shared facilities and equipment can soon harbor high levels of harmful bacteria. High risk ‘hotspots’ to regularly clean include:
Bathrooms: toilets, toilet bowls, cubicle handles, flush buttons/handles.
Common areas: kitchens, cafeterias, hallways.
Reception and entrance areas: reception desks, sign-in clipboards, pens, door handles.
Lifts and stairwells: handrails, lift buttons.
Desks and meeting rooms: keyboards, equipment, monitors.
Keep your workplace clean
Make sure your workplace is regularly cleaned. Not only does this help prevent the spread of infection, but a presentable workplace also maintains a sense of professionalism. You might choose to implement a cleaning schedule, with responsibilities divided between staff.
If you don’t have capacity within your own team to clean your workplace, you could consider contacting an external cleaning service.
Ask all employees and visitors to wash and dry their hands:
Before and after eating.
After coughing or sneezing.
After going to the toilet.
When changing tasks and after touching potentially contaminated surfaces.
An alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol as the active ingredient must be used as per the manufacturer’s instructions when it is not possible to wash and dry hands.
Infection Control in the Workplace
A free infection control policy suitable for most businesses.
Why is it important to maintain personal hygiene?
Personal hygiene refers to the cleanliness, appearance and habits of employees. Personal hygiene of employees, for obvious reasons, can be a sensitive issue for business owners and staff alike.
An official policy helps to ease any awkwardness, as employees will understand what is expected of them.
Personal hygiene requires everyone at the workplace to:
Cover their coughs and sneezes with their elbow or a clean tissue.
Avoid touching their face, eyes, nose and mouth.
Dispose of tissues and cigarette butts hygienically (e.g in closed bins).
Wash and dry their hands after smoking a cigarette.
Stay home when they have an infectious illness.
You can ensure your staff practice personal hygiene by asking that they regularly shower, wash their hair and facial hair, groom, clean their nails, and wash their work clothes.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How can hygiene be improved in the workplace?
Hygiene can be improved in the workplace by following four simple steps.
- Introduce a hygiene policy. This policy should clearly explain what you expect of staff. It should also state what the business is willing to provide employees.
- Regular cleaning. Simply, regularly cleaning – of the toilets, workstations and the office – is one of the most effective ways to improve hygiene. If possible, hire external cleaners to clean the office after hours.
- Provide toiletries to employees. Prompt your employees into maintain a hygienic workplace by providing them with toiletries. For example, sanitiser bottles, soap, boxes of tissues, and clean wipes.
- Internal communication. Remind employees of the importance of personal hygiene on a regular basis. Let them know how much it means to your business. Also, it is best practice to lead by example.
Do and Don’ts of Personal Hygiene In The Workplace
- Do clean up after yourself.
- Do regularly wipe down your workstation.
- Do wash your coffee cups daily.
- Do use sanitiser provided for you.
- Do adhere to the company’s hygiene policy.
- Don’t sneeze or cough without covering your nose and mouth.
- Don’t leave the toilet without washing your hands.
- Don’t use a public toilet without wiping it down.
- Don’t irregularly clean your workstation.
- Don’t clean your face regularly with reused tissues.
Can you fire someone for poor hygiene?
An employee could potentially be dismissed for poor hygiene practices.
However, if an employer wants to avoid an unfair dismissal claim they have to make sure the dismissal is not harsh or unreasonable.
For instance, the hygiene issue has to be a significant disruption to the workplace. Additionally, the employee must be offered a chance to improve themselves or address the issue.
How to maintain personal hygiene in the workplace?
To maintain personal hygiene in the workplace, you must keep doing the following things:
- Regularly clean your desk. Stop infections from spreading, and dust from gathering, by cleaning your desk.
- Sanitise your hands at least once day. Another method of halting infections in their tracks. Sanitisers kill bacteria and viruses in ways that soap won’t.
- Regularly wash your cups, mugs, plates and cutlery. Be safe rather than sorry by regularly washing the kitchen equipment you regularly use.
- Keep a box of tissues on your desk. In case you need them, to cover a sneeze or clean your face, make sure your tissues are within arms-reach of you, always.
How do you talk to an employee about personal hygiene?
- Write, provide and implement a hygiene policy. This is the first step in talking to an employee about personal hygiene. It is also gives you some background and context to support you if a serious conversation is needed.
- Generally remind employees about personal hygiene. Even if you would like to discuss the issue with one employee, avoid embarrassment by reminding all employees of your expectations. As hygiene is a sensitive issue, make sure your communication is delicate.
- Talk to them privately. If you wish to talk to an employee about a specific issue, pull them aside and speak to them privately.
What is a clean desk policy?
A clean desk policy sets out an employer’s expectations of the cleanliness of an employee’s desk. For instance, it can request employees pack all their documents into their drawers before leaving. Regularly wiping down a desk can also be stated in a clean desk policy.
How do you enforce a clean desk policy?
- Write a policy. Details that you, the business owner, expects from your employees.
- Provide copies of the policy to employees. Make the effort to communicate your expectations to the employees.
- Remind employees of your expectations. Every now and then, remind employees of your expectations
- Generally remind employees about the clean desk policy and its importance in the workplace.
What are some hygiene rules in the kitchen?
The rules that follow are some suggestions for office kitchens. Commercial kitchens may follow different regulations.
- Do not leave dirty cups and plates in the sink.
- Clean up any mess you make.
- Do not leave food unattended.
- Put all scraps into the bins provided.
- Regularly empty the fridge of leftover food.
- If you make a mess, clean it up.
- Label and date your food.
- Leave the kitchen cleaner than you found it.
Why is it important to keep work areas clean?
Workplace hygiene policies should also make provision for each employee to clean and maintain their own workstation or work areas.
The hygiene policy could include regular cleaning of surfaces with disinfectant. This would result in a drastic reduction of infection and illness. Policies typically also include keeping areas such as desks and storage spaces tidy and free of clutter.
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