ROSWELL, Ga. -- With all the recent news about flu outbreaks across the country it should come as no surprise that the flu is the top health issue for the New Year.
In a survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for Kimberly-Clark Professional, 66 percent cited the flu as the health issue they were most concerned about for 2004. Last year's top germs stories -- SARS and the Norwalk virus -- barely registered and were even eclipsed by the common cold. With heightened flu awareness people are embracing a chief recommendation for avoiding it -- hand washing.
When asked what steps were most important in reducing the spread of germs, six in 10 people chose washing hands more frequently, a key recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). All other choices -- including flu shots -- trailed.
The survey also queried full or part-time employees about how to make their workplaces healthier and more hygienic. Once again, hand washing ruled. In a question about what people would most like sick colleagues to do if they can't stay home from work, 42 percent of workers chose having ill co-workers wash their hands as often as possible -- ideally every time they touched their eyes, noses or mouths. Staying away from other people came in second. However, few went so far as to choose a more Draconian option for infected colleagues -- relegating them to a special "sick room" for the duration of their illnesses.
Handwashing surfaced again in a question about what bugs people most about co-workers and the spread of germs. While 38 percent of employed respondents cited co-workers coming to work ill as their chief peeve, nearly a quarter said they were most perturbed when sick colleagues didn't wash their hands after using the bathroom.
Given this, the obvious question is how can co-workers be compelled to wash hands more often? Handwashing reminder signs like those found in restaurants were the top choice for nearly one-third of employees surveyed. But almost a quarter selected a more resounding (and embarrassing) method -- an alarm that goes off when people leave the restroom without washing up. Following this were:
-- Health information about the importance of handwashing in preventing
the spread of germs
-- High quality soap and paper towels that don't irritate the skin
-- A recorded message that advises people to wash their hands as they
enter and leave the restroom.
When asked how they would like to receive educational information on hand washing, nearly half suggested pamphlets, followed by videos or DVDs, lunchtime seminars, and audiotapes or CDs for the car.
What can management do to prevent the spread of germs in the workplace? The top choice among working respondents, at 39 percent, was establishing a policy requiring employees with contagious infections to stay home until they recover. Next was to have management supply an arsenal of germ-fighting products including:
-- Waterless hand sanitizers for everyone's desks
-- Germ-killing paper towels and facial tissue and antimicrobial soaps
-- And installing ultraviolet lamps in ventilation systems to kill germs
and disinfect workplace air
Which away-from-home bathrooms do people think are most hygienic? Hotels were the hands-down winner, selected by 42 of all respondents. Falling far below were office buildings, restaurants, schools and universities. Manufacturing facilities and stadiums barely registered a positive response.
Because the bathroom is strongly associated with workplace germs, the survey also asked about ways to create a healthier and more hygienic restroom environment at work. No-touch systems were the top choice among workers. Next were products that capture or kill germs, such as waterless hand sanitizers or germ-killing facial tissue or towels. These were followed by audio and visual hand washing reminders, automatic disinfection of stall areas after each flush, availability of toilet seat sanitizing wipes, and disposable soap systems that are replaced when the product is used up.
No-touch restroom products and systems also scored high in another survey question. Ninety-six percent of employed respondents described no-touch systems as "important" in preventing the spread of germs in the restroom, with 68 percent rating no-touch systems as either "extremely" or "very important."
What's most offensive about workplace restrooms? Dirty toilets. Putrid potties were followed by: odors or lack of fresh air, and unavailability of key supplies such as soap, towels and bathroom tissues. Much lower on the list were: dirty sinks and counters, trash on the floor, and dirty towel and tissue dispensers. Twenty-two percent of employed respondents said "all of these" were equally gross.
So where does the buck stop when it comes to keeping the workplace hygienic and germ-free? The cleaning staff, according to 40 percent of the workers surveyed. But more than a quarter of these respondents said responsibility rested with employees themselves. That may explain why more than six in 10 employees reported staying home when ill -- either for a day or two or until they were completely recovered. Then again, more than a quarter go to work when they're sick.
The survey of 1,045 adults nationwide was conducted by telephone Dec. 12-15, 2003 by Opinion Research Corporation. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent. Of those surveyed, 526 were employed either full or part-time outside the home.
Kimberly-Clark Professional, based in Roswell, Ga., provides tissue and towel products, skin care products and industrial wipers for workplace settings.
Source: Kimberly-Clark Professional