Sick on holiday: fake claim or genuine, why it’s usually your fault

Fake travel sickness
Yes, we can be unlucky – but with food poisoning we’re most of us red-handed

Fake claims are in the news lately.

Food poisoning, mostly.

Massive demands that backfire as travel firms put up a fight. Big penalties too.

£25K for a woman in Wales.

An upcoming dispute already topping £52K for a family in Liverpool.

Not the holiday bonanza anyone was hoping for. And bad for all of us, fake claims like these are on the rise.

Yeah well, with in-your-face “ambulance-chasers” tempting us to make get-rich-quick claims right there on our sun-loungers, we ought to expect hotels and travel companies to play hardball.

Sure, being ill on holiday is the pits and feels like the end of the world. But if it’s really genuine and LOOKS LIKE IT, as long as we get medical help and advise our accommodation people immediately, there should be no problem.

Fake claim, false blame

It is after all, not easy to fake high temperature, body sweats, continuous vomiting and diarrhoea.

That said though, there’s still the awkward reality that it’s most likely our own fault.

Why?

Because food poisoning is basically all about contamination. We ingest germs with whatever we eat, our bodies react, we get sick.

And our own hands – which go everywhere and do everything – are the most contaminated of all.

Not that we want to accept that.

When food poisoning strikes, we usually blame (or our solicitors do):

  • Kitchen staff not washing THEIR hands in preparing food
  • Dirty kitchen utensils
  • Mix-ups of raw and cooked meat
  • Food prepared in a dirty environment
  • Hazardous chemicals (like cleaning agents) contaminating food
Hygiene from hell

But we’re not so goody-goody ourselves. Even when we’re at home, our hygiene record is scary.

On holiday, it’s even worse.

Because, think about it – we’re out and about, doing stuff. Who wants to stop and wash hands?

On the go all the time, we’re trying to maximise our experience. In a few days, we’ll have to fly home again.

So we’re up at sparrow’s tweet and never let up. Rushing here, cruising there – no chance to even think of washing hands. And often with nowhere to do so, even if we wanted to.

Uh huh.

So whatever it is, lunch or dinner, there’s often a whole day in front of sitting down at table. And our hands have touched everything imaginable on the way.

Down the hatch – oooh!

And guess what?

Few of us are in the 12% of hand washers, so we just sit there and scoff.

And because it’s holiday, odds are likely that we’re eating straight with our hands.

Burgers, pizza, wraps, sandwiches, fish and chips, kebabs, ice creams – they’re all feelgood holiday favourites we can’t get enough of.

So it’s down the hatch and licking our fingers, with nary a thought about clean anything – unless our hands are VISIBLY dirty. Fake confidence.

Four hours later – ooh, I don’t feel so good.

Now whatever it is kicks in and ruins the holiday.

Norovirus, salmonella, campylobacter, e.coli, c.difficile – they all give us the runs and have us spewing our guts out.

But don’t worry. That nice man at the poolside said just get a chemist’s receipt for Imodium and you can claim it all back – EasyJet, care hire, the hotel, everything.

Reputation management

Yeah, right.

One finger pointing, three others pointing back.

For a hotel or restaurant to fall down on hygiene is bad news – even in darkest Peru.

There’s reputation at stake, a licence to lose, a whole livelihood to go down the tubes.

Which means sure, slip-ups happen. But they’re not the norm.

Unless we’ve lucked onto a place teeming with cockroaches and unlikely to pass ANY inspection short of a shutdown, it’s usually our own fault.

Which is dumb when you think about it, because it’s the easiest thing in the world to carry antibacterial wipes or gel. In our handbag or pocket, it goes where we go – our hands can always be safe from germs.

Plus before  we start pointing fingers, most food places are pretty strict about their own standards of hygiene. Tourists bring money, so you can bet everything that can be cleaned will be. Wiped down with bleach, swept, polished and vacuumed within an inch of its life.

In some places, even clobbered with hydrogen peroxide mist to take out ALL the germs. No chance we can fake our way out of that.

Walk in there and the whole place is sterilised. Any hint of food poisoning and they’d probably string us up.

OK, we’re getting itchy feet. Already packed for next week. Passports and boarding passes at the ready.

Got the hand wipes and the gel?

No need to fake anything, just have a good time.

Wheezy question, iffy answer: should we sue for mould at work?

Two men crouching2
Wheezy mould at work is a misery you don’t have to live with

Wheezy, wheezy – isn’t it?

You’re coughing your guts out, that cannot be good.

Your mate’s in agonies, why shouldn’t you have a go?

Not so cut and dried, though – is it?

You sue, and they sling you out on your ear.

Even though there’s mould there, plain as day. Big black marks, right next to your desk.

Sure, it’s hazardous to your health – and sure, you should do something about it.

Health & Safety on your side

But there’s channels for this – big guns on your side.

And there’s no point putting your job on the line.

You already know the score. Mould triggers asthma, chest infections, allergies.

Which means you’re protected by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

Not just against mould, but all kinds of germs – because of the stuff you do and the things you work with. Or just plain germs at work that make you ill.

One phone call to Health & Safety and things start rolling.

Scoring brownie points

But before you make it, there’s maybe things you can do to soften the blow.

No point making enemies if you don’t have to.

Like for instance, you live with the mould every day. But does everyone else?

Maybe the brass don’t know about it and your report is the first.

Thing is though, mould is expensive to fix. And time-consuming.

Like, what’s the cause?

A leaky pipe? Rain seeping through the wall? Busted roof? Or is it ventilation problems? The whole place airtight to hold in warmth, not enough circulation, humidity climbing through the roof – bang, mould everywhere.

In which case, tell the brass there’s a quick-fix way to take the mould down. Get relief from it now, today – before all the hoo-hah of getting inspectors in, building consultants, and ripping the place apart to get rid of it permanently.

The overnight quick-fix

Mist the place up with ionised hydrogen peroxide after everyone’s gone home. The stuff permeates everywhere and oxidises ALL germs to nothing – bacteria, viruses and fungi, which of course includes mould.

Next day, you can tell straight away that it’s worked. Those black marks are now grey – and there’s no pong. Breathe easy instead of wheezy, the air’s safe now. And all that grey stuff just brushes away.

Oh, yes. And doing a non-invasive hit like that is a lot cheaper and faster than hammering and plastering with Bob the Builder all over the place. A real short-term money-saver.

You might even get a raise for it.

Easy, right? And not so wheezy any more.

Health alert: those black mould marks could cost you thousands

Mould accuse
Mould in the workplace is a whole can of worms

So what? Mould marks are everywhere. This is Britain, for heck’s sake – it rains.

Sure it rains. But not inside.

Mould and damp conditions are unhealthy as you can get. For your staff and your balance sheet.

A full house of trouble. Sick building syndrome, asthma, colds, flu, rheumatism, pneumonia. Outbreaks over and over again, accelerating as the mould gets worse.

The paying starts – and never stops

Staff off sick, productivity down the plughole, profits plunging – feelgood become feelbad.

And even worse once the council finds out. Health & Safety people all over you, building inspectors ripping up the walls, dragging days in court.

Then the fines.

How much could you be in for?

Depends.

Could be a one-off £5K fine.

Or the whole deal. Sickness compensation, absentee costs, insurance claims, nasty.

And all on your watch.

Duty of care

Like we said yesterday with legionnaire’s disease, it’s your duty to protect staff against hazards.

And believe us, mould might look like nothing – but those ugly black marks can kill as effectively as any bullet.

All it needs is an underlying complication. Respiratory problems, a weak heart – if your staff member dies, it could even be manslaughter.

Or you could leave it be.

Do nothing and let exposure for healthy staff rack up. Until one day, they have an underlying complication of their own. Or maybe it’s you, lying on oxygen in ICU, wondering if you’ll ever get your life back.

Wet, wet, wet – moisture is the enemy

OK, so do something.

But before you rush off and call in the steam cleaners, remember mould thrives when it’s warm and wet.

So here’s a few no-go words to keep in mind.

Wet, vapour, humidity, condensation, moisture and steam equals mould, respiratory problems and legionella.

Sure, you might get the stuff off the walls. But the lasting moisture accelerates it coming back.

And not just mould, but other pathogens. Viruses, bacteria. Get the place wet, and you’re opening a restaurant for them.

Which means you’ve got to go dry.

Besides, who wants moisture dripping on cables in the IT suite? Or getting into documents, come to that. Crinkled paper, water marks, pages sticking together. Not so easy to look professional.

Wake the tiger

Only one thing for it.

Ionised hydrogen peroxide in an ultra-fine mist. A mild 6% solution that doesn’t need lots of water to help it disperse. So it sits, light and agile in the air, not really wet at all.

A sleeping tiger that wakens to pounce.

Ionising makes it aggressively disperse in all directions. Hard up against all surfaces, probing deep into inaccessible places, clawing through the air itself.

Which means germs don’t stand a chance, including mould. Ionised particles seize them like prey, ripping them to pieces by oxidising their cells.

Look again, and those ugly black marks have turned to grey. Nobody home any more. So with almost no effort, they brush easily away.

No smell either – the usual sign of pathogens at work. All stopped now, the place is sterile.

End of the feelbad.

All germs gone, now for the cause

The place is dry too. No moisture to encourage a comeback. The stuff evaporates to nothing.

Job done.

At least, for now.

Because the mould might be gone, but not the cause.

That leaky roof or busted pipe needs fixing fast, or it will be back again.

And sure, you can keep hitting the place with hydrogen peroxide, your staff will always be safe.

But that won’t get the council off your back. Or the Health & Safety brigade.

Fix the problem, or they WILL hit you.

Like they did with these guys. Leaky pipe, occupational asthma, £12,000 compensation PLUS six months building work to make good.

Not worth the PT – and who wants that kind of black mark against them?

How much could you be paying for invisible liabilities?

Thinking exec
Hmm – money you never even knew you had, all going down the tubes from germs. Enough is enough!

Wait a minute, invisible liabilities?

There’s no gaps on your balance sheet, everything’s all accounted for. What myths are we on about?

Actually, they’re a black hole.

And they’re probably invisible because you’ve written them off as something else.

There’s plenty of evidence of them though.

Just run your finger across your desk. Along the back, where all the computer cables are.

See it now?

Dust, city grime, crumbs from al desko lunches, general office detritus.

Yes, dirt. But that’s not all.

Too small to see, too expensive to ignore

It’s evidence of the real liabilities. Germs too small for the eye to see. That’s why they’re invisible.

OK, so germs. Maybe your office cleaners missed a bit.

Except germs are everywhere, all the time. Even in the air we breathe.

And they’re not all harmless.

Sitting in air conditioned splendour, you may not have heard of legionnaire’s disease.

But it’s your duty as a manager to protect your staff from it. A silly little germ not even a thousandth the thickness of a human hair.

Except that’s the law. As JTF Wholesale found recently when a £1 million fine hit them for neglecting it. And as G4S Cash Solutions discovered when Harlow Council nailed them for £1.8 million.

Which means, don’t mess around – get an expert to advise you.

Deadly too

Because you see, legionnaire’s disease is a nasty killer kind of super-pneumonia. And it breeds in water systems, central heating and air-con cooling towers. In pipes and showers too – anywhere that water lies still for more than a few hours.

Spread by air, once you breathe that in, it’s serious. Especially with a previous condition. Asthma perhaps, or a dicky ticker – even being a smoker is enough. Then it’s hospital and drugs and even then you might not make it.

And that’s just ONE of your invisible liabilities.

There’s plenty of others you can get hit for too – if you don’t take precautions.

Around 30 other notifiable diseases on the governments infectious diseases list. Monsters like cholera, typhoid, measles SARS, smallpox and yellow fever.

Duty of care

Not that you’re likely to see any of them. But it’s your duty to make sure your staff haven’t got them – per the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR).

Yes, sure – nothing to do with you. Unless it happens.

Nothing like the non-events in your workplace. A few snuffles and tummy bugs – chicken feed.

You wish.

It’s those day-to-day bugs that are your real invisible liabilities.

And we mean day-to-day. Surprisingly, every one of us only feels up to 100% par for two or three days at a time. Otherwise, in some way or other, we’re all off-colour several times a week. An ache, a twinge, an iffy feeling, always something.

Money, money, money

Which is why, for starters, business experts PwC put losses from absenteeism at around £29 billion a year.

Hardly chicken feed.

Even more costly are the heroes who struggle to work when they’re not well. Not fully recovered from something, but worried about job security. Wrestling with flu, and the same worries. Or staggering in with tummy cramps, and determined not to be fired.

Presenteeism, it’s called. And experts reckon it costs 10 times more than absenteeism – £290 billion a year.

Put the two together and that’s £319 billion that illness costs UK businesses.

Germonomics

So let’s see – £319 billion, possible fines of £1 million or more. Oh yes, and if you have a suspected outbreak of any kind, the Health & Safety people have a thing called their fee for intervention, which is also not pocket money.

Plus of course, all the losses caused by under-performing or not fully-focused staff desperate to keep going. Mistakes, missed deadlines, clients rubbed up the wrong way and other disasters. Germonomics we call it – and to calculate what it could be costing your own business, click here.

Seems those invisible liabilities are pretty hefty.

And the fix?

For under £1,000 a month your facilities management people can buy a machine that will ELIMINATE germs for you – as in eradicate, clear out, sterilise.

Or maybe your cleaning service can do it for you for few hundred extra.

A nightly mist-up with ionised hydrogen peroxide and ALL germs are gone – hunted out of existence by a prowling tiger of a germ-killer.

Give yourself a raise

Yeah, there might still be dust and breadcrumbs when you run your finger down your desk. But count on it, there’ll be NO germs. Your place is safe and secure to a 6-log Sterility Assurance Level.

Tell you what else.

You might not have been able to see your invisible liabilities. But you sure as heck won’t be able to hide the sudden dividend that getting rid of them will trigger.

Maybe you’ll even get yourself a raise out of it.

Business reputations at risk in the wrong hands

Reputations at risk - soiled businesswoman
You do your best to keep up your reputation – but it’s got customer paw prints all over it – and then?

Even strong reputations are flimsy.

One negative happening, and the whole pack of cards comes tumbling down.

Everybody follows the rules, does everything right – then some dumbo comes along and ruins everything.

Usually the one person nobody can control.

Because of the myth that they’re always right.

Only this time they’re as wrong as it’s possible to be.

That all-powerful, untouchable king of business – the customer.

The one person who can shoot reputations to pieces better than anybody.

How?

The customer is always… dangerous

With dirty hands.

By leaving ugly paw prints all over everything.

Grab, fumble, tarnish – another reputation shot.

Greasy fingerprints on crystal glassware. Smears on polished bodywork. Dark stains on pristine linen.

And the ones you can’t see. Germs all over menus, cutlery and serving dishes – a food poisoning nightmare.

Next thing, it’s them – or other customers – complaining of stomach cramps, running to the loo, and barfing all over the carpet before they get there.

Nothing to do with you. It’s them.

The germs on their fingers are theirs – brought in after touching goodness knows what. Invisible, but dicey just the same. Possibly even deadly.

Always innocent – gets away clean

But guess who takes the hit?

Never them, the customer is king. Or more accurately in the food business, the customer is god.

So, taken ill after a night out – it can only be the restaurant. Dodgy ingredients, improperly prepared, sloppy personnel hygiene, dirty utensils – nobody has a leg to stand on. Solicitor on speed dial.

Yeah, right.

One finger accusing, three fingers pointing back.

Lost licence, closure, law suits, bank withdrawal, business collapse, HUGE money losses. And all because Fred Nurk didn’t wash his hands before eating. What kind of defence do you have against that?

And how many OTHER customers represent the same kind of risk?

The dirty truth

Pretty well all of them when you start looking.

Not good odds – ask the people who know.

They’re supposed to be on the ball, but how many actuaries would accept any eatery’s risk if they knew 88% of customers NEVER wash their hands before eating? Lots of rules for businesses to follow, none for customers. Where’s the justice?

And those are just the day-to-day instances – with nobody thinking about anything.

Then there’s the FAKE claims. The ones where the customer deliberately tries it on. Take a look at your newspaper – first Crete  – and now Turkey. The thin end of the wedge.

So how long will it be before it gets tried here at home? And how many reputations have gone down the tubes because some smart operators have got away with it already?

Reputations shot

Yeah, so Reputational Protection No 1.

Have your serving staff go round every table before handing out menus. Make a ceremony of it if necessary, but have them politely but firmly squirt antibacterial gel into the hands of everyone present.

Now at least your menus should be safe. And unless they go they go to the loo mid-meal, your customers should be safe from themselves for the evening.

Follow that up with Reputational Protection No 2.

Sterilise the whole place as often as possible – at least every night after closing. Which means mist it up with ionised hydrogen peroxide, so all viruses and bacteria are neutralised. No germs to catch, no tummy upsets to take away.

Do it. There’s too many business reputations already in the wrong hands – including yours. So it’s worth every penny to take it away from them and regain control for yourself.

Like we said, even strong reputations are fragile things.

No point running risks with them when you don’t have to.

Picture Copyright: polygraphus / 123RF Stock Photo and auremar 123RF Stock Photo

How safe is your Food Hygiene Rating against clients with unwashed hands?

Fingers crossed
You know YOUR hygiene is as good as it gets – but how about those people coming in through the door?

The short answer is, not very.

Even if your Food Hygiene Rating puts a “5” on your door, you’re up the creek at the slightest whisper of  “food poisoning”.

Especially if it gets in the media.

Superstar Michelin performers have had to close down to address those two words.

True or not, the public never seem to accept anything except negligence on your part.

So it’s the whole witch hunt.

Plummeting PR, lost revenue, the cost of deep cleaning, grilling staff over procedures, publicity for reopening – and the slow, agonising build up to repair your reputation.

Thousands and thousands.

And not necessarily anything to do with you at all.

Not YOUR hygiene – theirs

Because, ask yourself . How many of your clientele actually wash their hands before they sit down? Or if not then, before they pick up a knife and fork?

And who knows where they’ve been, or what they’ve been doing?

If they’ve been driving, there’s a good chance they’ve picked up staphylococcus or e.coli off their own steering wheel. Especially when car INTERIORS might only get cleaned every 3 months.

If they were on their mobile phone too, they’re likely to have been touching more faecal matter than a toilet seat.  The biggest trigger for norovirus – the Don’t Wash Hands Disease.

And these are the people who dare to suggest your procedures gave them food poisoning!

Iffy, iffy, iffy

It gets worse.

Because, top-drawer celebrity status notwithstanding, how many customers wash their hands EVER?

Your hands might be clean, but theirs aren’t. Check the record.

So that “5” Rating on your door is already under threat before you start.

Because you just know some hot-shot solicitor is going to make mincemeat of your case, no matter how meticulous you are.

Which means, “5” Rating or not, it’s worth investing in a little protection.

Protecting your interests – and reputation

OK, you can’t exactly demand they all hit the washroom before being shown to their table. They’ll never come back – and they’ll bad-mouth you to all their friends.

But you can protect hygiene levels AND offer a little courtesy – if you serve each guest with an individual hand-wipe or sachet of antimicrobial gel. Not as grand as steam-heated towels, but a lot more effective. Warm dampness in any case stimulates more bacteria than it kills.

On top of that, you also have the option to reassure clients that the whole place is sterile before opening for every session. Any germs previous guests might have left on chairs, table undersides, or condiment containers are eradicated without having to think about them.

And everywhere else as well. The drapes they might have touched. The carpets they might have tracked stuff in on. Not necessarily dog poo, but invisible germs. Plus harmful microbes lurking anywhere else. On menus, door handles, light switches, in the air itself.

One quick 40-minute session with ionised hydrogen peroxide mist  will remove all viruses and bacteria. Oxidised to nothing, so the whole place is safe, secure and sterile.

And your reputation is no longer at risk.

Well-earned status

Yes, sure – there might be the odd curmudgeon who refuses to co-operate. But how curmudgeonly do they have to be to refuse a pretty staffer personally offering an individually presented hand-wipe with your compliments?

A little insurance – and proof you’ve more than earned your “5” Rating.

Your customers are happy too.

Because how many of them will boast about the superior evening with PERSONAL hand hygiene – AND the place was specially sterilised before they got there?

A toast to you, then. May your business grow and prosper!

Picture Copyright: citalliance / 123RF Stock Photo

Buttons, touchscreens, and how we take our lives in our hands every day

Girls texting
Your touchscreen doesn’t lie – those greasy smears are dirt and germs right off your fingers

Ever seen what touchscreens look like after making a call?

Smeared with facial oils, make-up, hair grease and street dirt.

And that’s just the stuff you can see.

It’s not just touchscreens that are like that either.

It’s everything. Mostly with stuff we can’t see.

But it’s there, though.

Surrounded by yuck

Along with a whole lot of other gunk. Gubbins from somebody’s burger. Dust. Atmospheric grime. Faecal traces. And germs like you can’t believe – e.coli, klebsiella pneumoniae, salmonella, MRSA, norovirus – all the nasties.

And not just there either.

On lift buttons – especially at the Ground Floor, the one that gets pressed most.

On cash machine keypads.

And all the things in our pockets or handbags – money, keys, wallet, cleanser, hairbrush, everything.

Which if you think about it, means our actual bags as well. And everything outside them too. Laden with germs even though we can’t see them.

But we’re touching them all the time. Handrails, door handles, light switches, shopping trolleys – every one of them like our touchscreens, except there’s no shiny glass to show it up.

All of them things that seldom, if ever, get cleaned. Which is why they’re twenty, thirty, and forty times more germ-laden than a toilet seat. Because at least a toilet seat gets cleaned once a day.

So ask yourself, when was the last time any of us cleaned the inside of our leather handbags?

Or our hands themselves, come to that?

Looks are deceiving

They might not LOOK dirty, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t.

Especially after that chicken wrap for lunch with the dreamy mayonnaise topping. As our touchscreen will show, if we don’t lick our fingers off afterwards. Can’t find a tissue? Well, never mind.

And it goes on from there.

The gunk we can’t see on our desks at work, growing daily on the bits our sleeves haven’t wiped off. Hiding among the dust bunnies under our computer keyboards. Feeding off the crumbs of biscuits and the snacks we eat al desko.

And all the while – touching all these things and picking up fragments of everything that’s on them –  none of us ever think of washing our hands.

Our hands – which do everything, and go everywhere.

Like unconsciously touching our faces, every two or three minutes – sometimes up to three thousand times a day. Playing with our mouth, or fiddling with our eyes – the sensitive soft tissue through which most infections enter the body.

Playing games with our lives when there’s germs all around. GERMS, GERMS, GERMS.

Yes well, let all these touchscreens remind us. Before we take a tissue to them, or wipe them off on our sleeves. We don’t even need to take a memo. Those smear marks on the glass mean our health is at hazard – and we need to wash our hands NOW.

Phew, safe for the moment – but now we can’t touch anything, including our own touchscreens. Not unless we clean the gunk off that too.

Better hygiene or else

Which means everything if we want to be safe. Everything we use, everything we touch – and everything surrounding them. The air itself too, because anything as small as a germ can go airborne any second – and ride around on room currents for the whole of the day.

Uh huh. So we’ve got to wash the room too. Or whatever shared space we’re in. Restaurant, coffee shop, bar, schoolroom, office – or car, train and bus, come to that.

Not practical with mop and bucket, right? And besides, how do you wash the air?

Ah, but dirt and grime we can live with – we have so far, it’s just the germs we’ve got to handle.

OK, so the trick is to neutralise them with ionised hydrogen peroxide mist. The stuff reaches everywhere and eliminates them on contact. No need to rub and scrub, just press a button. Forty minutes later – all surfaces, the air itself – the whole place is sterile.

Better haul out our touchscreens and write that memo now. The one to ourselves about not taking chances and protecting our lives from germs.

Do it now before we clean forget. Or we’re sick of having to take MORE medicine.

Picture Copyright: gpointstudio / 123RF Stock Photo

How germs at the office just got more dangerous

Germs in the office
Yes it all LOOKS reassuring – but we’re not as safe as we think we are

Dangerous? Germs at the office?  Poppycock!

A dose of flu maybe – kid’s stuff.

You’re more likely to have an accident with the photocopier.

Except there ARE germs in the office.

And if you read your papers, you’ll understand why doing something about them suddenly got a lot more serious.

First off is the report about superbugs in our travel network.

Nasties in the Underground

Research by taxi insurers Staveley Head recently turned up 121 different types of bacteria and mould in buses, taxis and in the tube – 9 of them antibiotic resistant.

As Staveley Head’s spectacular website demonstrates, pick one of those up on the way to work, and the Doc’s miracle medicine cure suddenly doesn’t work any more, them bugs have mutated to have immunity.

And pick them up you certainly can – nasties like e.coli, MRSA and klebsiella pneumoniae. Swab tests found them lurking on hand rails, seats, doors and walls – fomites waiting for contact with human hands.

To be carried along to work with all the other hazards we’re exposed to – in the air and on the things we touch. Dust, exhaust fumes, chemicals like acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, toluene and ethyl alcohol, or substances like lead, cadmium and methylene chloride.

We can’t see them of course, they’re microscopically small. But they’re on our clothes and skin and hair. We breathe them in. Ready to transfer to all the things we touch when we get to work. And for when we breathe out. Dangerous germs, unwittingly brought in for our colleagues to catch and succumb to.

And they’re not the only ones. Things are happening in other parts of this sad old world of ours that are equally dangerous to our health.

At war with disease

Like second, war in the Middle East.

Decades of conflict that have devastated whole countries and health systems. And in their wake, epidemics of diseases not seen by doctors for more than half a century. Polio in Syria and cholera in Yemen.

Not our problem, we say to ourselves. Syria is 2,000 miles away, Yemen 3,600.

Except sadly, in this age of direct jet travel, local problems are world problems. Already, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, pouring into Europe or wherever they can get to. And like us tube travellers or the bloke on the No 9 bus, bringing their germs with them.

For every polio victim, how many are carriers? How many are there with the disease incubating inside them as they thankfully emerge on our streets, looking to start a new life?

Meanwhile, in Yemen, cases of cholera have already topped 167,000 and the disease is currently killing one person an hour. How many Yemenis are in Britain, heaving a heavy sigh of relief?

And how many of either have – without meaning to, or even know they’re doing it – transferred their germs to you?

Not directly, but via the grab handle in the back of a taxi, or a rush-hour strap on the Victoria Line – swabbed the worst for germs in the whole London system. Well of course, the Victoria Line runs right through incoming refugee central – King’s Cross & St Pancras AND Victoria.

Unseen, unheard, unrecognised

Worries, yes, And bigger than we think too.

Because third, American reports indicate that antibiotic-resistant superbugs are not as closely tracked in hospitals as they should be. Infection-related deaths are uncounted, greatly hindering the fight against an increasingly global health challenge.

Hopefully, protocols are more strictly adhered to here. But with the NHS in a a state of permanent overload from challenges in all directions, it is likely the same dangers exist in UK too. You peg off with a superbug that your Doc couldn’t treat when you were admitted for something else, who’s going to know?

Which comes back to how safe are you at the office?

And the unpleasant truth, not very. A fact that stems largely from our own hype about standards of hygiene. We think we’re cool.

Reality is way different from what we imagine. For instance:

All of which puts terrific dependence on how well the office itself is cleaned if we want to stay safe.

And the answer is, not very. Not when office cleaning is usually a grudge purchase at the lowest rate. A quick vacuum and wipe-down is min protection against the 10 million germs to be found on the average office desk.

Which, together with the germs we brought in off the street, make the place a lot more dangerous than we confidently kid ourselves it is.

The cost of doing nothing

Once a luxury, it is fast becoming a necessity to do something specifically about office germs. And if bosses won’t do it for staff health, maybe they’ll do it for the sheer economics.

Or “germonomics” if they choose to get serious. The thousands and thousands of pounds that can be saved – just by removing germs that threaten productivity. Push-button technology already in place to make offices sterile, safe and secure.

So how dangerous is YOUR office – because, since it affects us all, this is one of those where you CAN believe all the things you read in the newspaper?

And the answer is very easy.

Does the button get pressed every night, or not?

One hint of health risk, and your whole business reputation nose dives

Nose dive crash
Taking chances – when the wrong germ comes along, your whole world goes for a loop

One germ is all it takes. One teeny microbe less than 0.002 microns across – and there goes your reputation.

E.coli is it?

A customer ate something that disagreed. Food poisoning headlines in the local press. All over TV and Facebook. Wisecracks on Twitter making it worse.

A reputation nightmare.

OK, so things happen. Somebody makes a mistake and the whole organisation pays for it.

Or not.

Because e.coli is a germ you can catch anywhere. Off a doorknob or a product display. Off the handle of a customer basket. From a handshake with sales staff. Out of the air. Anywhere.

Same scenario with most germs. From mild colds and tummy bugs to life-threatening illnesses.

Picked up on contact, or breathed in.

The blame game

So are you unlucky – or genuinely negligent?

Dirty hands are a cause, most of the time. They look clean but they’re not – at least not since after breakfast. And hands touch everything, including mouth and nose – the germs’ way in to reputational mayhem.

The customer’s hands, or staff’s?

With reputations on the line, it’s unwise to point fingers.

Most people don’t wash their hands from one moment to the next. Especially breezing in off the street. But you can’t accuse them, even if their hands are crawling. 0.02 microns is impossibly small to see, even if there are millions of them. So it’s you who’s accused – of insults.

On the staff side of course, you can see it coming.

Take precautions and be ready, before anything happens.

Minimise the risk

Like tighten up on staff hygiene. When hands are washed, how thoroughly, and how often. When latex gloves get used. How merchandise is cleaned and presented. Nannying detail yes, but your reputation depends on it.

Likewise, how your whole place is cleaned.

Not just a lick and a promise, but properly sterilised. If there’s no germs anywhere, you know the e.coli must be the customer’s.

And properly doesn’t mean bleach. The smell alone will drive your reputation away all by itself.

Besides, how’s bleach going to reach all the places that germs are more likely to lurk? In dark corners, away from the usually scrubbed counters and work surfaces? Or in the air itself?

No, no – to get rid of germs, you’ve got to get serious. Just like your reputation is serious  – and e.coli makes bad PR.

So it’s sterilise or nothing – again, your reputation depends on it.

No germs on anything anyone might touch – staff or customers. Including all the things nobody ever thinks about but uses all the time. Like self-service touchscreens and lift call buttons.

Bring on the tiger

Time to think ionised hydrogen peroxide.

And a nifty all-automatic machine – the Hypersteriliser.

It’s loaded with a mild 6% solution of hydrogen peroxide – the same germ-killer stuff you can get in Boots as antiseptic. And the same stuff our own bodies naturally produce to fight infections from cuts or scratches.

Ah, but press the button – and you waken the sleeping tiger.

IONISED, see. Which mists the hydrogen peroxide into a dry superfine spray – and transforms it from a gas vapour into a plasma.

Yup, you’ve got yourself a tiger. Because now that mild 6% solution releases a slew of other antimicrobials – hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, ozone and ultraviolet – every one, a germ predator.

Plus the ionising forces the tiger out of its lair and actively on the hunt. Forced apart electrostatically to disperse aggressively in all directions. Fiercely pouncing oppositely-charged bacteria and viruses -and clawing them to shreds by oxidising them.

Not kind. But think of it this way. It gives germs the same deadly treatment they give you. Or more appropriately, your reputation.

Give it 40 minutes or so, depending on room size – and the whole place is sterile. No germs anywhere. In the air, on any surface, in any tight inaccessible places, or in any cracks, crevices and remote corners.

OK, so with the whole place germ-free, any e.coli floating around has got to be the customer’s.

But you know how it goes, you get the blame anyway. Benefit of the doubt and all that – the customer is always right.

Roar of approval

Uh huh, so your final play is to protect the customer from herself.

Before she has a chance to touch anything, offer her antibacterial wipes or gel – free with your compliments.

Well it’s your reputation, so what’s she going to think – free hand wipes AND the whole place sterilised for HER health and security?

Wow! Worth paying a bit extra to shop there, don’t you think?

And how’s it going to look for you when she climbs on Instagram and Snapchat to her friends?

Like we say, it’s your reputation. And with the tiger on your side, you’re playing for keeps.

Picture Copyright: digidreamgrafix / 123RF Stock Photo

How purified office air could still be full of germs

Unwell at work
You’re only as safe as the air you breathe – and everybody else breathes it too

You should be OK with purified air. But every system has its drawbacks.

Which means you may not be as safe as you think you are – even with the latest triple-whammy set up.

One reason is how most purifying systems work.

Passive instead of active.

A great big fan system sits in one place, sucking air through it. Filters next to the fan sift out contaminants – and the air goes round again, circulating for reuse. Purified.

HEPA efficiency

That’s usually pretty good with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) systems, which filter out particles down to a very small 0.03 microns.  Fine for fumes and exhaust sucked from outside, as well as smoke, dust, emissions from from building materials, furnishings, cleaning products, electronic equipment, toiletries, people and pets.

Not so fine for harmful viruses, bacteria, protozoa and fungi – which are often very much smaller. A typical cough-sniffle cold bug like rhinovirus might be as small as 0.002 microns. Too small to be filtered out, too light for gravity to affect it. So it rides the air, round and round – waiting for us to breathe it in. Not purified.

An efficient alternative is to use ultraviolet light. A fan draws air in through a long exposure tube – the “killing zone”. Ultraviolet attacks the microorganism’s DNA, rendering it unable to reproduce. If contact is long enough, it becomes neutral and effectively dead.

But how long is long enough? To make sure of a kill, the air has to move fairly slowly. It can’t recirculate fast like the HEPA filter – unless it has a whacking great bulb. And if the bulb is too big, it produces too much ozone – an effective antimicrobial, yes, but hazardous to humans.

Those are the passive systems. Air goes to the germ-killer, not the other way around. It works only where there’s airflow. In quiet corners and along walls, the air is still and unmoving. Particulates and microbes are there for keeps. Not purified.

Active – go get ’em

More effective is to be active – to take the germ-killer to the air. To force it out positively, driving it to disperse in all directions pro-actively. To invade the air totally.

The vehicle is a dry ultra-fine hydrogen peroxide mist, which kills germs by oxidising them. The mist is ionised to become a plasma, forcing itself away in all directions, penetrating everywhere.

The actual solution is mild, only 6%. But ionising transforms it, producing further antimicrobials – hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, ozone and ultraviolet. From eco-friendly 6%, to turbo-charged 600%.

Electrostatic attraction causes oxygen atoms to grab oppositely charged viruses and bacteria. They are physically ripped apart – and the mist safely reverts to oxygen and water, which evaporates. Sterilised, purified, safe and secure.

OK, there is a downside.

Hydrogen peroxide won’t take out non-biological contaminants with anything like the same efficiency. Pollutants like volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), gases such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide, particulate matter and fibres are better removed by the regular HEPA filters.

But work the two together…

Picture Copyright: pressmaster / 123RF Stock Photo