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

It’s the law: protect staff from workplace germs – or go to jail

Bizgirl in jail
Not protecting staff from germs is criminal – you could get up to two years for it

A harsh law but necessary. Because it’s about putting people at risk.

At risk from harmful, but all too common legionella germs. Deadly – and naturally occurring just about anywhere.

Do not be ignorant, forgetful or negligent of this law – the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Fail to comply and you face unlimited fines, court costs, compensation claims, disqualification and up to two years’ in prison.

Because legionnaire’s disease – the most virulent form of legionella bacteria – IS a killer.

Between 2011 and 2013, 84 people died from it in England and Wales. Hundreds more were affected but lucky enough to recover.

A kind of super pneumonia, it’s an airborne infection that lurks in air conditioning and water systems – both essential to modern workplaces.

Not on your everyday radar

OK, so how many managers are ventilation experts or plumbers?

That’s the kind of expertise needed to guard against legionnaire’s disease. To set up the necessary maintenance and keep it running safely. The kind of thing you need a professional consultant to advise.

Plus legionnaire’s disease is a notifiable disease.

If a doctor diagnoses it, it must be reported urgently to the local authority under The Health Protection (Notification) Regulations 2010. Right up alongside encephalitis, infectious hepatitis, cholera, malaria, smallpox, typhoid and all the other heavyweight nasties.

You don’t want you or any of your staff coming down with any of these.

Which means getting your facilities management people or building supervisor on the case right away. If your water systems are the wrong temperature or spend many hours dormant, you are all at risk. This bacteria is comfortable between 10 – 60⁰C and feeds off rust, sludge and limescale.

Catching it is as simple as breathing it in. Which means that until your systems are checked, your staff could be vulnerable right now.

Need a panic button?

There’s no need to panic though. You can take emergency action just by picking up the phone.

You won’t fix the CAUSE of the problem. But you can eliminate any airborne germs just by sterilising the place – legionella included. Along with all the other afflictions that threaten health and productivity – colds and flu, norovirus, e.coli, ALL of them.

At the end of the day when staff go home, have your cleaning service mist up the place with hydrogen peroxide. If they can’t do it, call a specialist.

The dry mist penetrates everywhere, including through the air. It oxidises germs by ripping them apart – bacteria, viruses, fungi, you name it. You and your staff are safe – walking in to a zero germ threshold next morning.

Leave the air con off if you can stand it. Avoid using showers or anything that sprays water droplets into the air. That will reduce fresh exposure to any legionella still in the tanks or pipework.

Then listen very carefully to what your consultant says. The law is very specific – and you want to make sure you comply.

On-going all-round protection

Of course it might take a while for the necessary work to be done. Relax, the nightly mist-up of hydrogen peroxide should keep everyone protected – from legionella and everything else.

In fact you might want to keep up with this treatment once your system checks out as legionella-free. It’s not the law to protect against salmonella, c.difficile or MERS, but should give your bottom line a boost if you do.

Fewer absentees. Fewer glitches from hero staff soldiering on unwell at work. More feel-good motivation. Better productivity.  Big savings to your bottom line.

Plus of course, you’re legal.

You’re taking immediate steps, as the law requires – and you’ve actioned an on-going fix.

It’s your GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card.

Good evening – first, please wash your hands – we don’t want to be sued for food poisoning

Restaurant Hosts
We wash our hands – with everything we do. Our business depends on it – so you don’t get food poisoning. You want to eat here safely, it’s your turn

Welcome and enjoy yourselves. But no-one suffers food poisoning at our expense.

Our reputation is at stake – and why should we pay for your lapse of hygiene?

Yes, yours.

You see, we have a business to run and a licence to protect. We can’t afford lapses.

So every one of us here makes a point of washing their hands before they do anything.  Or if they’re stuck at their post and can’t get to a wash basin, to use an antibacterial gel.

We think you owe us the same courtesy. We’re thinking of your safety and well-being, you should respect ours.

Because it’s not just washing hands.

We know from long experience that every aspect of hygiene matters.

Sure, it’s good presentation to have everything neat and clean and tidy. Spotless surroundings. Fresh table linen. Shining cutlery. Sparkling glasses. Not just for appearances, but for your health.

Germ-free or nothing

Everything you will use tonight is not only clean but germ-free. To be used once only and then cleaned again. No germs anywhere.

Our whole place is like that.

No dust, no dirt. Cleaned and polished several times a day. Scrubbed, vacuumed and disinfected. Our livelihood depends on it.

So you can imagine how meticulous we are in the kitchen. How careful we are that food prep is only in super-hygienic conditions. Created by staff who know their whole career is reliant on clean hands. As significant to them as to doctors and nurses. A rigid routine we never break.

We’re just as scrupulous with actual food too. Again, our reputation depends on it.

Yes, it’s fresh and carefully checked. Trimmed, sliced and chopped with knives dedicated to each food type to avoid cross-contamination. On surfaces thoroughly cleaned before and after preparation.

Then roasted, baked, boiled, steamed, fried, grilled or sautéed by clever hands. Hands always washed and washed again through every step. Not only for your satisfaction, but to keep you safe. So you’re never exposed to the slightest imperfection – at least not if we can help it.

You owe it to yourself

So how about you?

Yes, you’re welcome and we want you to enjoy yourself.

But food poisoning is a serious thing and we can’t afford to take chances. Which is why we’re so insistent on washing your hands. We need to protect you from yourself.

Because it’s hands that cause food poisoning, nine times out of ten. Hands touch everything every moment of the day. They feel, hold, manipulate, jab, brush and grab continuously. Collecting germs all the time – from every surface, in every location, even the air itself.

Ah, but how often do you wash your hands?

We can’t see germs, so we never think we’re contaminated. But it’s inevitable that we are, germs are everywhere – bacteria, viruses, fungi. We’re half-bacteria ourselves!

OK, so when did you last wash your hands?

Before you  left home?

And did you drive straight here? Both hands on the wheel, carefully below the speed limit, watching out for pedestrians?

Ah, but cast your mind back. That booze-cruise dash to France last weekend. Loaded to the roof with your favourite Cab Sauv and a last minute grande portion de frites at McDonalds before the ferry.

Have you cleaned the steering wheel since then? Given it anything more than a quick wipe?

And you drove here with clean hands, reckoning you’re safe?

Uh huh. Any idea how long gut-wrenching bacteria like MRSA or e.coli can survive on hard surfaces?

Or how about norovirus – you know, the cruise ship virus? That can last for months.  Hundreds of people ill and massive £10,000 pay-outs?  No thank you.

No visible dirt – fake clean

So you’re actually going to sit there, waiting for the menu, while we ask politely that you wash your hands first?

Excuse us, but we know the facts:

So no, you can’t have the menu – yet.

Other customers need to handle it after you – and we can’t take that risk. You might have e.coli, you might not. But we’re not getting nailed by some hotshot solicitors because some of our clientele ate here and felt queasy.

Like the rest of the place, our washrooms are kept clean and meticulously tidy. But if you want to stay at table because of your guests, here are some hand wipes for all of you with our compliments.

Please use them, then we’ll bring you the menus and a whole evening of enjoyment. And you won’t get food poisoning because we know our hygiene is good and our precautions work.

But just so we’re clear up front. If you don’t use these wipes and you come down with some tummy bug food poisoning, we’re not taking the rap.

Picture Copyright: IStockphoto/Doug Berry

Empty desks are just the beginning of what cheap cleaning costs you

Astounded office manager
Surprise, surprise. Cut corners on cleaning costs – and all your expensive  professionals start going off sick

As you’re about to find out, cheap is expensive.

Cut corners on your cleaning budget, and it’s only a matter of time before staff start calling in sick.

Sore throat and streaming nose possibly, or gut-wrenching stomach ache – some bug they picked up at the office.

Sure, why not?

Germs are everywhere

We live our lives surrounded by germs – and there are always more of them where lots of us are together.

Like the office. Or school. Or the workshop.  Or crowded like sardines on the train or bus getting there.

Breathing the same air. Touching the same things. All the kind that never get cleaned – handrails, grab-handles, money, keys, lift buttons, touch screens, door knobs, light switches, coffee pots, keyboards.

All of them covered in germs.

OK, there’s not a lot you can do about the Great World Outside. Get everybody to wash hands when they come in of course. Put wipes or bottles of hand gel on every desk.

And put pressure on your cleaning service to do the other stuff.

On top of the vacuum and quick wipe-down they do already? Don’t hold your breath. There’s only so much anyone is prepared to do for £3.50 an hour.

Which straightaway says that rock-bottom basic is not good enough. Unmotivated cleaning casuals, slaving for a pittance. Those germs are there to stay.

Lurking hazards

And there’s plenty of them too. 10 million on the average desk – including norovirus, the world’s most common vomiting and diarrhoea disaster.  26,000 on coins and banknotes.  Plus mobile touch screens crawling with e.coli, coliforms, staphylococcus aureus and enterobacteria.

But it’s not just staff going sick you have to worry about – a cost to the nation, by the way, of £29 billion a year.

It’s the loyal and committed heroes who come in to work when they’re unwell – feeling like death but determined to get on with the job.

You have to admire their tenacity, but they’re not doing you any favours. Just how well can you work when your head is all over the place, it’s difficult to concentrate and you keep having to dash for the loo?

Not the 100% professional you’re paying good money for, hey? Maybe not even 50%.

Unwell and how capable?

And just how much can they cost you – making mistakes, missing detail, not paying attention and getting grouchy with customers? 10 times more than staying at home is what. More when you calculate all the hiccups they can cause.

Plus of course, there’s the harm they do to OTHER staff members – sneezing all over them, or passing on their germs with every piece of paper that crosses their desk.

So what are we looking at cost-wise, a couple of thousand? A couple of tens of thousand? Hundreds? And all for the “economy” of cleaning at £3.50 per hour?

See what we mean, that cheap is expensive?

Time to chuck it and pay your cleaning service a decent whack. Or hire some serious professionals with the latest technology and know-how. Look around and the top-notchers are up to ISO 9001 standards.

Proper cleaning will reduce your germ exposure and protect your staff assets better. But there’ll still be germs lingering in the air, which is usually 80% of your room space – and more gunk pouring out of the air conditioning ducts. Airborne germs, just waiting to infect somebody.

So you’re still not safe unless you go the whole hog.

Safe and secure

Ask your cleaning service to STERILISE the place too. It’s easy, quick and extremely cost-effective.

After the usual cleaning procedure, they mist the place up with hydrogen peroxide – the same germ-killer our own bodies make to fight infection, but ionised to give it more oomph.

For a start, the stuff is electrostatically charged. Ensuring it disperses everywhere – even inaccessible corners – as each particle tries to escape from itself.

Those same particles use their charge to reach out and grab at germs like a magnet. Locked together, they cannot escape as oxygen atoms rip them apart. Seconds later, they’re oxidised to nothing. Bacteria, viruses, fungi – all sent to oblivion.

Your place is now sterile. Safe and secure from germs when your staff come in next morning.

Better than the germ palace you had before, eh? Admittedly not as cheap – but not expensive either. And when you tot up the money you save, a process that pays for itself several times over – even in the first month.

Not cheap, because it’s the best.

Exactly the same as you probably are. The best operation with the best people – you wouldn’t want to give them away cheap either.

Want to save money? Then spend wisely and well.

No cheap short-cuts – and your balance sheet will look good and healthy too.