Does your company love you? Check out the washroom

Aug 29 2013 by Brian Amble Print This Article

With Labor Day approaching in the US, the Silly Survey Season is fast reaching its peak. One particularly eye-catching example, courtesy of a company called Bradley Corp (strapline: "commercial washroom innovation"), is the "Healthy Hand Washing" survey, which reveals that "93 per cent of Americans believe the condition of a workplace restroom is an indicator of how a company values its workforce".

The good news, however, is that just six cent of American say that they have a poor or terrible work restroom, with six out of 10 rate their workplace facilities as excellent or very good (but whether the same proportion would also say that they feel highly valued by their employers is a moot point).

Meanwhile, the Healthy Hand survey also found that four out of 10 employees have experienced restroom troubles such as toilets clogged or not flushed, bad smells and towel and soap dispensers being empty, jammed or that don't dispense enough are the most common complaints.

The survey also found that staying healthy is an imperative for American employees. Eight out of 10 say they consciously take steps to avoid the germs of sick colleagues, with preventive maneuvers including staying away from those who are under the weather; washing their own hands more frequently; shunning handshakes with sickies; standing further away when talking to them; and telling them to go home.

But while sub-standard facilities and coughing co-workers may be annoying, they may be completely the wrong target if its our health we're really concerned with. Because as we reported way back in 2004, it isn't workplace restrooms we ought to be worried about, but dirty desks.

Yes, as a University of Arizona microbiologist found, the average desk plays host to 400 times more germs than a lavatory seat, largely thanks to the with the unchecked rise of eating in situ rather than getting out of the office for lunch.

And it's not just desks that are bacteria cafeterias: our telephones are home to around about 25,127 microbes live per square inch, while our desk surface harbours some 20,961 microbes per square inch.

In contrast, the average lavatory seat is a paragon of sterility, containing just 49 germs per square inch.

What's more, germs are far from being gender-neutral. In fact, when it comes to computer mice and keyboards, those used by women have three to four times more germs than those used by men.

So with the message that good hand hygiene is important still fresh in our minds, perhaps offices ought to display signs reminding people to wash their hands before they go to the restroom.