Basics: office hygiene

Hygiene, according to the German Society for Hygiene and Microbiology’s definition, is the “Science of the prevention of sickness and the maintenance, support and stabilization of good health”. This includes preemptive measures against infection such as cleaning, disinfection, sterilization and quarantining. Currently, clinical data on the subject evinces some alarming numbers. According to recent research by the National Reference Center for the Surveillance of Nosocomial Infections, around 3.5 percent of patients in German hospitals become infected during their time there. Thus circa 400,000 to 600,000 infections per year, of which 7,500 to 15,000 patients die. Bacteria such as Escherichia Coli, Staphylococcus Aureus or Enterococci, which thrive in every human’s skin and intestinal tract, can cause inflammation, bladder infections, respiratory tract infections or even pulmonary infection when the immune system is compromised. If these pathogens enter the bloodstream, life-threatening toxicity can occur. (1)

20 to 30 percent of nosocomial infections and fatalities could be avoided through the maintenance of an accredited hygienic regimen. The problem is further complicated by the fact that many infections occurring in hospitals are likely to be caused by pathogens which are resistant to antibiotics, and are thus nearly impossible to treat. (2). Preemptive hygienic measures are, literally, of vital importance.

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Hybau+ Structural Hygiene in the Hospital: a Joint Project

Independent of the various administrative hurdles in the German hospital system and the flawed implementation of the Infection Protection Act, representatives of the scientific community, industry and clinical practice have come together to address the dangers of infection from another angle. The goal of their research is the development of hygienic, structural-functional processes and the optimal application of hygienic materials in all clinical environments. To this end, structural, technical and facilitative requirements must be outlined which lead to the “avoidance and minimization of the dangers of infection via physical contact with the various surfaces in patient and visitor areas”.

The research team conjoins the three disciplines of facility design, hygiene planning and material science. An experienced research team consisting of hospital trustees, manufacturers, planners and furniture producers is also involved. (3)

Members of the HYBAU+ Join Project include:

  • The Institute for Industrial Construction and Constructive Design
  • The Institute for Building Materials, Solid Construction and Fire Protection
  • The Institute for Hygiene and Environmental Medicine
  • Braunschweig Technical University

Representatives of Industry:

  • Kusch+Co
  • Odenwald Fiberboard Company
  • REISS Office Furniture
  • Resopal
  • Vorwerk & Co
  • Franz Kaldewei
  • Meiko Mechanical Engineering
  • Objectmöbel-concept
  • Saint-Gobain
  • Sana Clinics
  • Schön Clinics
  • Braunschweig City Clinic
  • Schweitzer & Partner Architects
  • Tarkett Holding
  • German Copper Institute Professional Association
The Office as Danger Zone

Health facilities are, by nature, prone to a heightened amount of risk when it comes to the spread of germs. However: “Germs can thrive anywhere people are, including for example on the objects with which they come in contact: the handrails on the metro, doorknobs, computers, telephones. Objects which are used by many people during the course of the day are particularly susceptible to germs”, says Dr. Ernst Tabori, a hygiene and environmental medicine specialist. (4)

In addition, every human being is already a carrier for up to 2 kilograms of microbes. These germs are not evenly distributed over the body; the mouth cavity holds relatively few, the digestive tract an exorbitant amount. Yet virtually no surface of the skin is free of these tiny free-loaders. They occupy mucous membranes, scalp and fingertips… and wherever a person should idle, a microbial footprint is left behind. (5)

It follows that the presence of most microbes found in office environments stem from human carriers. Their presence is increased exponentially when sick colleagues decide to show up for work, transforming the office into a virtual marketplace for infectious germs. Many employees feel compelled to come to work with a cough or runny nose simply to prove that they are, in fact, unwell. The problem multiplies when: “This behavior is emulated by other colleagues, leading to more workspace illness and hence more employees missing more workdays”, notes the infectologist. According to Tabori, this is a sign of an evolving corporate culture. Staying home when indisposed through sickness must not only be allowed, but encouraged. “This will spare the firm countless nonproductive workdays”. Just how long a pathogen can survive on an object’s surface is difficult to measure. Noroviruses, in favorable conditions, can live up to 14 days, and some bacterial spores can survive as long as a year. “The influenza virus, the true flu pathogen, stays infectious longest when kept the coolest”, says Tabori. Kept at a room temperature of 20 degrees Celsius, however, the virus can become dormant within two to eight hours.

In light of this, it should come as a surprise that simple and effective hygienic measures are not often implemented: efficient hand-washing (30 seconds), restriction of workstation eating, the regular cleaning of (especially multi-user) workplace objects, timely replacement of hand towels and other linens, adequate ventilation etc.

REISS office furniture is developed to encourage health, hygiene and productivity during office hours. This is one of the reasons REISS took part in the HYBAU+ Project. Just as REISS has offered ergonomically optimal workstations through the innovation of its Stand-Sit workstations, REISS will now continue its pioneering work to include protection from infectious disease in the work environment.

Favorite dwelling-places for microbes

Coffee mugs
Under no circumstances should you use the previous day’s mug: 866 bacteria per square centimeter could be waiting for you on its surface. This makes it 37 times more infiltrated than your toilet seat!

Telephone
Around 1600 bacteria are following your calls. A similar area on your toilet’s scrub brush can hold a mere 60.

Women’s purses
A very dark place, with a toilet-scrubber factor of 19.

Desks
Not only do 14 times as many microbes occur here as on a toilet seat, but their variety of up to 500 types is much greater.

Elevator call buttons
Taking the stairs is healthier. One push of an elevator’s call button, and you have one hundred tiny new friends. That’s 10 times as many as you’ll find on the toilet seat. (6)(7)

1 Reader’s Digest 11/12 Anke Nolte When the Hospital Makes you Sick
2 National Health Ministry 2011-03 Infection Protection Law
3 www.tu-braunschweig.de/iike/forschung/gesundheitsbau/hy
4 Pharmaceutical Review 21.01.2016
5 South German Times 31.05. 2012 Katrin Blawat Germs in the Workplace
6 Frauenzimmer.de 10.08.2016 Germs in the Office
7 Stern.de 4.10.2015 Germs in the Office

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