Tag Archives: duty of care

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?

Staff at risk: the invisible killer that could put you out of business

Blindfolded businesswoman
Blind to the risks – just because we can’t SEE germs doesn’t mean they’re not there

Invisible because it’s too small to see.

But at a tiny 2 microns long, it could be the biggest challenge your business ever faced.

Right, we’re talking bacteria. A single cell of legionella pneumophila in this case.

Not something we think about every day, but a daily threat that lurks in water systems – at home, at work, anywhere.

Wherever it might be possible to breathe in water droplets.

Why is it dangerous?

Because it leads to flu or pneumonia-like illness – legionnaire’s disease (legionella) – a serious lung infection that can make you very ill, or even kill you.

And it spreads very rapidly through big buildings like hotels, hospitals, museums and office blocks – particularly through air conditioning.

The threat we never know is there

Hear the alarm bells ringing?

You should.

Because by law, you are responsible for the health and safety of your staff. It’s your duty to protect them from the risks of legionella. Yes, the stuff is invisible – but that doesn’t mean it’s not there, waiting.

Even if you haven’t heard of it, you are accountable. And not knowing about the law is no excuse. You could be sued if somebody catches it – even tried for manslaughter if somebody dies.

Which should start you thinking about what you should do. Not just to be fully compliant. But to protect your staff as far as possible – they are after all, your biggest assets.

Because legionella is not the only invisible germ threat.

Billions and billions more

Living and working in enclosed spaces as we do, there are all kinds of other bacteria and viruses we’re exposed to daily as well. Just as invisible, just as dangerous. And your duty of care means you should be taking precautions against them as well.

Most of them, our immune systems can shrug off. And if we do catch a bug, it’s usually of the inconvenient or nuisance variety – colds, flu or a tummy upset.

Not serious, unless you look at the money they cost. All staff get expensive when they can’t function at 100%. Slaving at your desk, nobody is more committed. But how good are your maths reflexes when your head is pounding and you’re all bunged up?

Of greater concern are other heavyweight bugs we COULD get. Especially living in the jet age, when colleagues on business or holiday can bring back all kinds of illnesses at incubation stage – with no immediate sign that anything is wrong.

Breathed in or communicated on contact, they’re quick to spread though. Via high touch objects like light switches, door handles, keypads and touchscreens. Or simply on documents handed around.

Safety in our own hands

Handed – how most germs actually spread. And they’re invisible, remember?

We’re not very good at preventing them either. Because most of the time our hands don’t LOOK dirty, so we reckon we’re safe.

Meanwhile, the reality is that:

Which leaves us wide open to all kinds of dread diseases. MERS or bird flu from Asia. Yellow fever, cholera, malaria or Ebola from Africa. Zika from South America.

And all the other nasties from everywhere – hepatitis A and B, HIV/AIDS, measles, meningitis, TB or typhoid. Plus the more familiar miseries our sloppy hygiene can bring – norovirus, rotavirus, shigella and strep throat.

Ramp up the hygiene

OK, it’s YOUR duty of care to ensure your staff are safe. Not exactly easy when you have to protect them  from themselves.

You can’t FORCE them to wash their hands. But you can give them reminders – antiseptic gel on every desk, antibacterial wipes too. Positive but unobtrusive against invisible threats.

You can also shorten the odds. Eliminate ALL germs in the workplace after they go home in the evening.

For instance, get your cleaning company to give a good going over with hydrogen peroxide mist and you KNOW your staff are safe. 99.9999% of germs destroyed, you can breathe easy.

Sure, they’ll bring in loads more germs when they return in the morning. We all carry clouds of invisible germs with us, so that is inevitable.

How to stay in business

But with the workplace totally sterile first thing when they get started, there’s less chance for anybody to catch anything.

Worth doing to stay in business. And avoid a record of criminal negligence.

Which is what will happen if legionella pneumophila or any of these other invisible germs DOES strike.

You want to stay clean out of it.

Picture Copyright: bds / 123RF Stock Photo

Who is liable if your office chair breaks? And how about if you get flu?

Questioning girl in chair
Yes, it’s your employer’s responsibility to help you keep healthy and well

Dodgy place the office can be. Your squeaky-wheel chair. Paper cuts. Stabbing yourself with the stapler.

Plenty of misadventure and only yourself to blame.

But how about if the ceiling falls in? You get trapped in the lift? Or your office chair breaks?

How about if it’s major and you get hurt? Have to go to hospital? Or even take time off?

Most employers are pretty sympathetic.

It wasn’t your fault. They’ve got insurance. The landlord has pots of money and it’s all fixed PDQ – no questions, no worries. Everything turns out hunky.

Duty of care

OK, none of these things happen very often – but most bosses accept that if they do, then it’s their responsibility. Part of their duty of care.

Your workplace welfare is their concern, it’s their job to look after you. And Numero Uno on their list of obligations is ensuring a safe work environment.

Some of them take it further and invest in a workplace wellness programme – actively looking to support and promote employee health, safety and wellbeing.

Hold that thought, health.

When you’re out of action, you’re off the grid. Your job doesn’t get done, there is a hole in the fabric at work. It can lose money, it can lose customers. It can lose goodwill and momentum.

Not so bad if you’re off for a few days from the wrench to your ankle when your chair gave way. Your boss is embarrassed and hoping you won’t sue.

Not your fault

But how about being off with the flu?

Not quite the same, is it? Not exactly your fault, but not quite so sympathetic about it either. Silly you, taking chances out in the rain. Yes, so you caught it from somebody on the tube – but you should be more careful.

And then the flu turns out to be MERS – Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. More like pneumonia than flu and people can die from it. And your colleague on the desk next to you just came back from Bahrain.

Company trip or personal, it doesn’t matter. Nobody knew she had it – still in incubation or possibly she is a carrier, catches a mild version and is none the worse for wear.

But not you, you’ve got the lot – fever, coughing AND the diarrhoea. Just from sitting there, doing your job.

Not fair and not right.

Though not even knowing about it, your employer has failed to protect you. Maybe others in your team will also come down with it. Your workplace welfare is compromised and your employer is derelict in duty of care

Derelict?

Care and protection

Oh yes. There’s a whole team of you working together in the same space, normal office bullpen. None of you is the same and probably most of you have some kind of underlying condition – weak chest, heart murmur, IBS, or prone to migraines.

These weaknesses make you vulnerable. If some bug goes around – flu, norovirus, whatever – you’re more likely to get hit. And more likely to get complications.

You need protection FROM EACH OTHER – and as a regular workplace hazard encountered in every business, your employer should provide it.

It’s already necessary too.

One of the highest health hazards of all, ordinary office desks are regularly infested with 10 million of more germs. Escapees from the nightly cleaning crew wipe-down, or long-term lurkers on keyboards, phones, documents, etc – or in the dusty bunnies and detritus behind display screens and control consoles, inaccessible in coils of cabling.

Uh huh. But not the employer’s nightmare it might seem to be.

The premises get cleaned out nightly, right? Vacuumed, wiped down, trash emptied. It might LOOK clean, but the germs are still there – along with others swirling in the air, brought in on the personal auras of you and your colleagues.

Believe it or not, each of us trails a cloud of microscopic bacteria, viruses and body debris – as personal to each of us as a fingerprint or retina scan.

Easy peasy answer

OK, so get rid of the germs too. No germs, no illnesses, no infections. Nobody off work, everybody happy. That massive chunk of absenteeism expense is deleted from the balance sheet.

Unbelievably easy too – with almost no effort.

After everyone’s gone home, a Hypersteriliser gets wheeled in – a kind of dinky, wheelie-bin-sized anti-germ console. Hit the button and the place gets misted up with an ultra-fine super-dry mist of non-toxic, ionised hydrogen peroxide – the same natural germ-killer our own bodies make for ourselves.

The mist is electrostatically charged, which does two things.

First, every single particle tries to get away from itself, like magnets with the same polarity, pushing each other away. This forces the mist to power-disperse in all directions – hard up against all surfaces, walls and ceilings, deep into cracks and crevices, and clutching hard at every single coil of wire.

Second, the negative charge of the peroxide is actively attracted to the positive charge of bacteria and viruses. It vigorously reaches out and grabs at them as it spreads – again like a magnet, snatching at them like iron filings – out of nowhere, out of everywhere – clinging to them and oxidising them to nothing.

Forty minutes later, they’re all gone – the whole place is completely sterile. No MERS, no nothing to threaten anybody. Everybody safe.

Now go tell your boss.

If she knew it was that easy, she’d fall off HER chair.

Picture Copyright: cherezoff / 123RF Stock Photo

Vomit at the office: who’s liable – and what for?

One sick lady
Not nice, ever. Not nice knowing you probably caused it either

Oh no! Vomit at the office. Professional cool and polish, gone in an instant. Feeling awful – and degraded – the end of the world.

Not your fault though, right? You couldn’t help it. One minute OK, the next…

Except the inconvenient truth is, it probably WAS your fault. Not deliberate or anything like that, but highly likely it was CAUSED by you.

We’re ALL bad

Now don’t feel bad, we’re all probably just as guilty. Because nine times out of ten your unfortunate experience is not caused by something you ate. More than likely it was from something you swallowed after touching it by hand.

Easily done – that hasty pastry gulped down with your flat white before the all-important 9.00 meeting. Eaten with your fingers, right? You had to lick the icing off afterwards. Four or five hours for the stuff to get down to your gut and react with your internal bacteria…

Excuse me, I don’t feel so good.

Upchuck all over the conference room floor.

The blame game

So how is it your fault? You didn’t do anything. That horrible heave-ho came out of nowhere.

Ah, that’s just the point. You didn’t do anything. And that’s why the rest of us are probably just as guilty. Because the one thing we’re always NOT doing though we know we should, is wash our hands.

Especially after going to the loo and before eating food. Yes, it’s shocking, but 62% of men and 40% of women NEVER wash their hands after going to the toilet.

Worse, 95% of people don’t ever take the time to wash their hands properly.

And just so you can recognise how easily your awful experience happened to you, only 12% of people ever wash their hands before eating.

Which means…

You can see it can’t you? Running late because the tubes were crowded and you couldn’t get on. Mad dash to the office via the coffee shop. Quick detour to the loo and check make-up. Gulp coffee and pastry – you burnt your mouth remember? Grab your laptop and go. 30 seconds to spare and your presentation was on first. No time to wash your hands – you just got unlucky.

Because most of the time we get away with it. This time, you just got caught.

Noro nasty

Better hope it’s not norovirus though – or any of the other real nasties. Four, five hours? It usually takes longer, more like eight. And it won’t be just your fault you made yourself sick – you could bring the whole office down.

You see, norovirus is highly contagious and gruesomely efficient. That’s why it spreads so explosively – the world record for long distance vomit – and don’t even think about the diarrhoea.

OK, so you slink home in a taxi, new silk blouse and your jacket ruined, icky vomit all through your hair. So what happens with the clean up?

Yeah well, it’s one of those accidents nobody is prepared for. Paper towels and dishwashing liquid in the kitchen, bleach if they’re lucky. Wrinkled noses and pulled faces attacking the patch on the carpet. Hopefully the night cleaning crew will fix it when they swamp out in the evening.

Except they won’t be prepared either, norovirus is smarter than that. Shampoo the wet patch, OK. Vomit gone.

And the rest of the room around that? The chair legs? The conference table? The air itself? Norovirus particles are as small as 2 microns, too small to see, finer than cigarette smoke – so they could be floating around for anything up to a week.

Everybody gets it, easy

All it takes is 10 particles, on somebody’s cheek, scraped together as they rub their eye, into the soft tissue round the cornea – next victim, prepped and ready. Picked up by others too – off the conference table, the door handle, the light switch – half a dozen targets.

They go to their desks, wake up their computers. Norovirus on the keyboards, the desk phone, the meeting minutes they circulate to their colleagues.

Tomorrow morning, a dozen staff calling sickies – with more to come because the germs are still in the air, still on all the high-touch areas not processed by the swamp-out team. The whole office down – vomit, cramps, diarrhoea, the works.

Your fault. You could get sued.

Well, yes. To begin with.

But also the company’s.

They have a duty of care to ensure the workplace is safe to work in – the floors are solid, the place doesn’t leak, there’s no mould, or drafts, or rats running around, and you don’t shock yourself half to death flipping the light switches.

And there’s no germs.

How safe is safe?

For instance if legionnaire’s disease was lurking in the air conditioning ducts you’d quite rightly be able to sue them for not providing a safe and secure hazard-free place to work. They’d have to compensate you AND pay to have the condition fixed – possibly even face criminal charges.

Norovirus is no different – and way more common than legionnaire’s disease – more common even than flu or the common cold.

Your company might shrug it off and say it’s not their problem – but keeping desks, chairs, computers, carpets, curtains and the air itself safe from germs is just as much part of their duty of care as making sure none of you freeze to death in winter.

You started it. But everybody else came down with the bug because of them.

You didn’t wash your hands. They didn’t ensure the place was germ-free afterwards. And most of the time everyone just accepts it’s just one of those things. You failed in your duty to yourself and your colleagues. They failed in their duty of care to all of you.

Yet it’s so easily fixable. And just maybe all of you are negligent in not knowing that it is.

Hygiene defence

Your personal upchuck could have been prevented by soap and water. Or your company could have been smart and put a pack of antibacterial wipes or hand gel on everybody’s desk – because they know that staff are busy and frequently forget to wash their hands – and even though it gets wiped off every night, everybody’s workstation is a major source of hazardous germs.

No, it won’t work with heavy bleach and more elbow grease, rubbing and scrubbing. The smell will be unbearable and the airborne germs will remain untouched. Steam cleaning won’t work either – germs need very high temperatures and at least five minutes contact time to be destroyed – not possible hose-piping around so that everything is wet – ineffective against airborne germs too.

More effective and far cheaper is to eliminate germs with a Hypersteriliser.

After the usual cleaning, a wheel-bin-sized unit is rolled in to mist up the place with ionised hydrogen peroxide. Electrostatically charged, microscopic particles of hydrogen peroxide actively clamour to get away from each other, spreading everywhere, forcing themselves into every crack and crevice to escape.

That same electrostatic charge causes them to reach out and grab at viruses and bacteria everywhere – on surfaces, under them, behind things, in the air itself. Contact time is only seconds, during which the germs’ cell structure and DNA is completely destroyed.

Sterile and safe

Allow forty minutes to process the entire room and the whole place is sterilised – no germs, no nothing – safe. No law suits either, or anyone suffering upchucks. Unless they forgot to wash their hands before climbing into lunch – or there really is something off with their chicken liver pâté – not cooked enough, perhaps.

Feel better? If it’s any consolation, norovirus only lasts two or three days – unpleasant yes, but it does come to an end.

Then you can wash your hands of the whole thing.

Picture Copyright: BDS / 123RF Stock Photo

People make themselves sick and it’s YOUR fault

You mean me
Suddenly you’re in trouble – even though you’ve done nothing

Of course it’s your fault, you’re not doing anything.

Nothing for your customers, nothing for your staff.

They’re getting themselves infected and you’re just letting them.

Get ready to be the victim

Which means any minute now, they’re going to clobber you.

Duty of care or some such… you didn’t stop them.

So now they’ve got sick in your place, so of course it must be your fault. Give them a chance and they’ll sue you down to the ground for generations to come.

After all, you let them walk in with unwashed hands and didn’t make a fuss. You didn’t nanny them into using soap and water, giving themselves a good scrub. You just let them sit there at your restaurant table or office desk and carry on regardless.

And how do you know where they might have been?

Clutching handrails on the bus or supermarket trolley. Those grubby railings out in the street. Not forgetting the escalator, or the touchscreen on their phones – all kinds of germs out there, heaving on everything.

Who knows what they might have picked up? E.coli, salmonella, clostridium difficile, campylobacter, the superbug MRSA, flu viruses and norovirus are usual suspects. Any one of which could give them collywobbles, or something more serious.

Germs everywhere

Don’t believe it?

Just ask yourself – out and about, doing things in the city, when was the last time you washed your own hands?

Can’t remember? Neither can most of us – because we don’t think of it. Which means most of the time, our personal hand hygiene is non-existent. Most of us don’t wash our hands at all, so there’s all kinds of bugs crawling on there – including poo from the loo for at least 28% of us.

So check out these people – what are they doing? Tucking into your menu specials? Using a knife and fork, or their fingers?

Oops, there you go, a piece of bread roll straight out of their hand. Bread, butter – and norovirus – down the hatch. It only takes 10 norovirus particles to be infected – and there’s probably several thousand in each mouthful.

Give it 24 hours and the phone’s going to go. Cramps, vomiting and the world’s worst diarrhoea – after eating at your place and they’re calling their lawyers.

And you did nothing.

Nothing to cause them being ill – but nothing to stop them either. So now you’re going to get it.

Guilty because you’re innocent

Same thing if they’re working in your office. Unwashed fingers on the keyboard, then touching themselves round the eyes and mouth. Or eating a sarnie at their desk, just to make sure.

Not at work tomorrow. Sick as a dog and unable to move. But they’re onto the union rep about work-place germs – how dare you run an unhealthy environment!

Your fault again for doing nothing. Not rescuing them from themselves.

So what to do?

You can’t force people to wash their hands. They’ll get offended and give you more grief than you already have. And their sloppy hygiene could cost you plenty.

Not fair, is it? You already provide washrooms and loos – your place is always spic and span. Yet it’s you that gets hit for THEIR negligence.

Time to do something to protect yourself – duty of care – duty of bottom line.

By making hygiene much more assertive.

Because at the moment, it’s just passive, isn’t it? If they don’t wash their hands after the loo, that’s their indaba – but it’s you that gets it in the neck.

Pro-active hygiene

So put a bottle of hand sanitising gel on their desks – or offer them each individually packaged antiseptic wipes.

It’s a courtesy, right? How are they going to refuse you?

And how many are likely to think about suing you if they STILL come down with some bug? You’ve visibly demonstrated you care for their well-being. Yeah they’re still suffering, but more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt.

OK – and you can take it a stage further too. Not just sanitise their hands, but sterilise the whole place – get rid of the residual germs in the air or on surfaces, some of which can survive for up to two weeks or more.

Duty of care – duty of bottom line. Because what is the cost if they sue? Or the down time if they’re not working? The loss of trade? The loss of goodwill? The loss of reputation?

Norovirus alone costs the NHS £100 million a year. Get unlucky and it could put you out of business.

Yeah, look after your people – and protect yourself too – belt and braces.

All it takes is a Hypersteriliser – and around 40 minutes every night, part of your normal cleaning operations.

Press a button and it mists up deserted rooms with ionised hydrogen peroxide – which spreads everywhere through the air and into cracks and crevices, oxidising germs to nothing on the fly.

The result? A Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6 – in non-medic speak, that’s 99.9999% of all viruses and bacteria gone.

No way anything can be your fault after that.

Picture Copyright: atic12 / 123RF Stock Photo