In hospitals they call them HAIs – Hospital Acquired Infections.
Outside medical circles, nobody’s started talking about Work Acquired Infections (WAIs) yet. But they’re gonna.
Controversial topic, HAIs.
A lot of people think they’re proof of incompetence – it’s a disgrace that infections should happen in the first place. Totally unfair and not very realistic.
Because if you’re in hospital for an accident or operation, you’ll most likely have some kind of cut or incision. And right there, is a major risk of infection. It can happen, even with the most stringent hygiene measures.
Not so safe any more
But the world has changed since the last time you looked.
Hospitals have an even bigger threat to face behind HAIs. Because we’re so gung-ho and Harry Casual about antibiotics, there’s a whole load of viruses and bacteria out there that have learned how to resist them.
You get an infection, the Doc can’t shoot you full of penicillin any more because a lot of the time it won’t always work.
Take MRSA, the first line infection most hospitals are so worried about. The name says it all – Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. Against that, antibiotics are about as useful as coffee sweeteners – your body just has to tough it out.
Now think of that in the wider world.
Antibiotics are starting not to respond – so if something happens to you, you could be in big trouble.
And things do. Accidents at work happen way more than you think. Check how the Health & Safety people see things happening in a year:
- 133 workers killed at work (2013/14)
- 2,535 mesothelioma deaths in 2012 due to past asbestos exposures
- 78,000 other injuries to employees were reported under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences)(2012/13)
- 175,000 over-7-day absence injuries occurred (LFS) (2012/13)
- 1.1 million working people were suffering from a work-related illness (2011/12)
Those are the big dramas. But what about the little ones?
It’s just a scratch
You drop something, you cut yourself, something digs into you. What’s the bet hygiene levels at work are nothing like in hospitals?
Even an office can be anything but “harmless”.
Just think of it. Maybe thirty or fifty of you, all in the same room. All breathing the same air, all exposed to the same environment.
You don’t even have to have an accident, there’s plenty of germs ready to have a go at you. With so many people concentrated together – more viruses, more bacteria – the threshold is higher. WAIs are almost inevitable.
High germ thresholds for instance, are almost certainly the cause of “sick building syndrome”. Headaches, nausea – you’re not sick of the job, you genuinely have a health issue.
But you don’t have to. And as the effect of antibiotics not working becomes more acute, you’re going to see a lot of places taking active steps so you never do.
You’re probably already aware that desks and computer keyboards are breeding places of germs – as many as 20,961 microbes per square inch according to research.
Sure, your workplace gets vacuumed and wiped down every day by good, professional services – but they can’t do everything. What about under things, or nooks and crannies – or even the air itself?
Know how the smell of fish and chips lingers when everyone has gone? Germs linger the same, able to survive up to a week or more – floating in the air because they’re so incredibly small. An infection waiting to happen.
You guessed it, our hygiene habits need to ramp up a level. Clean isn’t necessarily safe. And once somebody catches a bug, sure as anything, you know it’s going to get everyone.
So the trick is to sterilise the place. Not just the desks and floors – those are done already, and look at the hazards we face. We need to do the air too – after all, it’s 80% of the space – and day to day, it never gets touched.
Enter the hygiene robots – machines that take down germs and make the place totally safe from viruses and bacteria. They may be ultra violet generators or oxidising foggers – but they work, and very effectively.
Still feeling queasy at your desk? If it’s not lunch, maybe you should pressure the boss into getting the place sterilised every night. A hydrogen peroxide super-mister eliminates all germs in around twenty minutes.
It won’t stop infection if you get a cut of course. There’s germs on your skin and clothes from outside, so you still have to take all precautions. You’re less likely to develop problems though, because the germ threshold is less – at zero when you walked in this morning.
WAIs are likely to increase – but not on your watch.