Your colleagues’ dirty washroom habits may not be what you think

When it’s suggested that someone has dirty washroom habits, you might not immediately think about their hands.  However, I would suggest that perhaps that is exactly what you should think about.

Toilets are never going to be the cleanest of places 24/7 – they do have a purpose after all.  At Initial, we focus on ways to make washroom hygiene easier and more pleasant, but there is also a responsibility on the users to leave the washroom as you would want to find it.  This is, of course, to make the experience more acceptable for other users, but also to prevent the spread of sickness-causing germs.

The ‘sneeze effect’ is what happens when a toilet gets flushed.  Imagine an aerosol of water and germs from the bowl being propelled upwards and outwards, eventually settling on the floor and surfaces around the toilet.  That means micro-organisms that are associated with urine and faecal matter are being distributed over all of the surfaces that get touched in the washroom.

Let me give you a scenario.

When you go into the cubicle, you drop your bag on the floor (which is covered in an invisible sprinkling of germs).  The toilet lid was already up, so you turn and sit on the seat (and germs that have settled there).  The toilet roll doesn’t have a cover, so the germs have already settled there, but you use it anyway.

You then flush the toilet without putting the lid down and a fresh spray of ‘bowl sneeze’ plumes out of the toilet as you pick up your bag (up to 10,000 bacteria per square inch) and unlock the door (around 40,000 germs per square inch).

After using the toilet, your hand has a bacterial count of 200million per square inch.  You are going to wash your hands now, aren’t you?

Are we honest about our Handwashing habits?

washroom habits

At Initial, we recently surveyed 5,000 office workers around the world to mark Global Handwashing Day.  According to the World Health Organisation, hand hygiene is “the most important measure to avoid the transmission of harmful germs.”, so the results of 84% of those asked claiming to always wash their hands after visiting the toilet and 27% claiming to wash their hands for more than 20 seconds every time seemed to be a good result.

However, when we compare that to the results that we were able to physically monitor in a comparable industry using our hand hygiene compliance solution, HygieneConnect, the actual percentage of people washing their hands is observed at nearly half of what they are claiming*.

By failing to wash our hands, either correctly or indeed at all, those germs that have been picked up in the washroom will go on to be transmitted around the office as we move around, from door handles to pens, to phones; and even to food if you’re one of the 50% of the workforce who eats at their desk.

Germs, not just on our hands

We’ve already mentioned the bag, now smattered with germs, but what about other things taken into the cubicle?  In our research, we delved into the other items that could get cross-contaminated.

We found that:

  • A third of office workers take their phone into the cubicle.
  • A whopping 35% read or browse online, 18% play games, 13% update their social media status and 12% bring food or drink into the toilet.
  • Of those people messing around on their smartphones, 63% are on Facebook, 50% are WhatsApp-ing, 17% are smashing their best score on Candy Crush and one in ten (11%) are trying to catch a Pikachu!

Dr. Lisa Ackerley, a leading hygiene expert, commented, “While bringing a smartphone or a newspaper into the bathroom may seem like a good way to pass the time, the danger is that germs are easily transferred from unwashed hands to objects that are routinely used throughout the day. When workers wipe and then resume playing with their phones or simply pick them up before washing their hands, their phone become a fantastic reservoir for germs such as bacteria and viruses which will re-contaminate even washed hands meaning germs can be easily passed around the office.”

It’s something to think about next time you give someone a friendly greeting – perhaps you’ll be one of the 42% of people that avoid shaking hands with someone who had just left the office toilet.

The social impact of Handwashing

Whether you’ve forgotten, are one of the 37% of people who blame being in a rush or running late; or are one of the 50% of people blaming an aspect of the bathroom such as smell or cleanliness for driving them away, the fact remains that not washing your hands is not hygienic.  Yes, you can and will spread germs, but what about the social aspect?

54% of office workers said they would be “disgusted” if a colleague didn’t wash their hands after visiting the toilet and 24% claim to have called someone out for forgetting to wash their hands. Simply put, not washing your hands can turn you into a social pariah.

So let’s ask that question again.  You ARE going to wash your hands now, aren’t you?


* Continuous HygieneConnect monitoring carried out in 2015 by Initial Hygiene.

Cat Allport-Kane

As Head of Marketing Services at Rentokil Initial, I happily work on content design, research and copywriting all day long. I get a real buzz out of finding out everything I can about new topics, then finding creative ways to present what I've learnt to inform and educate others. I've been writing content for 20 years for various companies and what I love about Rentokil Initial, is that the topics can be diverse, but ultimately, the themes are always about protecting people and enhancing lives.

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