Wrongly or rightly, guests check into a hotel and expect it to be a safe environment. At no point before checking in does a guest expect that staying at your hotel could make them sick, and in certain scenarios, very sick.
But what if your hotel isn’t safe? Would you know?
Holidaymakers seem to get ill all the time. Some blame it on ropey restaurants while others blame the water. But what if it’s actually your hotel to blame? Is it actually your hotel that’s making your guests sick?
Below, we list some of the most likely culprits that could be making your guests ill.
When your guests stay at your hotel, they could be travelling from anywhere. With international travel now so accessible, guests could be bringing with them all kinds of different bacteria and viruses. And if you’re not careful and diligent with your cleaning, these germs can be passed on to future guests or worse yet, to your housekeeping staff who will invariably pass them on to previously unaffected rooms.
Just think, every time you touch something, microbes are transferred from your hands to the surface you are touching. In your hotel, this means that commonly touched surfaces, such as light switches, door handles, taps, TV remotes, elevator buttons etc, are laden with germs, and while some are harmless, others are far more sinister. And some of these germs can live a surprisingly long time.
But what kind of germs are living on the surfaces in your hotel? Faecal bacteria, for instance, is often found on TV remotes and light switches. This can be from guests either not washing their hands correctly after using the bathroom or transferring germs to other surfaces by flushing with the toilet lid up. Germs can travel up to six feet when the toilet is flushed, landing on nearby surfaces. If you then touch these surfaces, the germs are transferred to your hands to contaminate even more surfaces.
Along with the items mentioned above, carpets, chairs, and bedspreads are also hotspots for germs. While sheets and towels are generally changed between guests, the bedspreads are less commonly washed, meaning that they can quickly harbour much more bacteria.
What threat do germs pose to guests?
Bacteria and viruses are able to live on surfaces outside the body and still be infectious. Sometimes, this can be for a surprisingly long time. Therefore, it’s imperative that all surfaces that come into contact with guests are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between stays to avoid passing on illnesses or causing them.
If your cleaning regime after checkout is lacking, your guests are at risk of catching flu and cold viruses, stomach bugs, MRSA, E.coli, Salmonella, plus many more.
Mould is a common term for fungi – a microorganism which includes approximately 300,000 different species. Commonly appearing as patches of black, brown, orange, pink, yellow and green, mould can actually be any colour and will often be accompanied by an unpleasant odour that seems to linger.
In order to grow, mould actually needs very little. Mould spores are in the air all around us and will start growing should they land on a surface which provides a food source. The mould will continue to colonise as long as there is a degree of warmth, moisture, and oxygen present.
Excess moisture in the air is the number one contributing factor of mould growth that we can control. The other factors needed for mould growth are almost always present within a healthy building. So rather than mould being a problem in and of itself, it’s actually a symptom of a further problem, namely damp or condensation.
When mould is actively growing, it feeds from organic materials such as plaster, plasterboard, paper, cardboard, fabric and even wood. As it feeds, it gradually damages the surface which can not only cause unsightly damage to the interior of your hotel but can eventually go on to make building materials fail.
How is mould a risk to guests?
Despite media coverage, there is no concrete link between mould (commonly referred to as “toxic black mould”) and serious illness and death. However, that doesn’t mean it can just be ignored. Some forms of mould do release toxic spores (called mycotoxins) which can be incredibly dangerous. However, in order for these to be released, certain conditions have to be met and not every species of mould is even capable of releasing mycotoxins.
So, what risk does mould pose?
Both the WHO (World Health Organisation) and the NHS agree that exposure to mould can cause an increased risk of experiencing respiratory symptoms, infections, allergic rhinitis and asthma. Inhaling or touching mould spores can also cause allergic reactions such as sneezing, a runny nose, red eyes, and skin rashes.
Mould can also cause headaches, eye and throat irritation, nausea, and difficulty breathing. So while your guests might put their symptoms down to a cold, it could actually be your hotel that’s making them sick.
HOT WATER STORAGE
When it comes to hot water storage and delivery, legionella bacteria and the risk of scalding are the two major concerns. The preventative measure put in place for one increases the risk for the other. For instance, turning down the hot water temperature so that it does not scald makes it the perfect temperature for legionella bacteria to grow. But the water temperature that kills legionella bacteria is hot enough to scald.
How are guests at risk?
If you do not have strict safety guidelines in place, your guests are at risk of either contracting Legionnaires’ disease, or at risk of scalding. While scalding may sound the lesser of the two, don’t be fooled.
Every year, twenty people die as a result of scalding from hot water and 570 people suffer injury. But most of these could have been prevented.
In 2012, a Scottish hotel was sued following the death of a guest after being scalded by her room’s shower. The hotel did not have thermostatic mixing valves installed, or any other safety procedures to prevent this risk. The hotel was accused of failing in their duty of care to provide a safe environment for their guests.
But what about the risk of legionella bacteria? Is that any less risky than scalding?
Legionella bacteria causes Legionnaires’ disease when it’s inhaled via contaminated droplets of water in the air. It’s a potentially fatal form of pneumonia, to which everyone is susceptible to infection.
CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING
Hotel guests dying from carbon monoxide poisoning during their sleep is still frighteningly common. The Mayflower Hotel in Kensington, London, made the news in March 2018 after a Spanish guest tragically died and his friend was left in a coma, fighting for his life due to carbon monoxide poisoning. And in Boone, North Carolina, two guests died overnight in their hotel room, but their cause of death wasn’t discovered until another guest died in that same room. The cause of deaths was later found to be carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is most dangerous when it happens in places where people sleep. When in a group and you all start to feel ill, it’s more likely that you won’t just put your symptoms down to mere coincidence that you all feel ill and will perhaps investigate a little. However, if you’re either alone or with your partner and it’s the middle of the night, even if symptoms wake you up, you’ll probably put it down to catching a bug or what you ate for dinner and attempt to go back to sleep.
Carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless, tasteless gas that can block the absorption of oxygen in the bloodstream. It can be fatal and can cause severe long-term damage. Produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels, the only way to detect it is with a carbon monoxide detector.
If your hotel uses fuel-fired heating systems, water heaters, pool heaters or cooking appliances, then you’re at risk of having a carbon monoxide leak in your building. In many hotels, the heating and hot water is often centralised in a plant room which is away from the occupied areas and often unmanned for the majority of day and night. Therefore, any alarms need to be fitted in each room rather than the plant room because if they go off and there’s nobody there to hear them, nobody will still be any of the wiser that there’s a problem.
When carbon monoxide occurs, it rapidly fills the space within the room where the appliance is before seeping out into other areas of the building. Whilst the concentration – and therefore the risk – decreases the further it spreads; the carbon monoxide can still be concentrated enough to warrant hospital treatment to those who come into contact with it.
While the most common causes for carbon monoxide poisoning lie with faulty installation, poor repairs, and insufficient maintenance, it’s still possible for a well-maintained appliance to fail and cause a carbon monoxide leak.
While not the biggest threat to guest health, bed bugs are an increasing problem and are off putting to guests. They can also seriously harm your reputation if reviews are left stating your hotel has bed bugs. If not dealt with quickly, a bed bug infestation can rapidly spread out of control. Bed bugs can easily spread to adjoining rooms – whether that be rooms to either side, above, or below.
Bed bugs not only live on and around the bed frame and headboards, they also get into all sorts of cracks and crevices near to the bed. These areas can include skirting boards, sockets, light fittings and even bedside furniture. Ensure these areas are regularly checked by housekeeping staff.
To keep a bed bug infestation from getting out of control, also ensure regular inspections of:
- Soft furnishings, such as chairs. Be sure to check the seams, inside covers, and around the zips.
- Gaps along the bottom of walls such as where skirting board or carpets meet the wall. If there is furniture against the wall, also be sure to check where these meet.
- Standing furniture, such as wardrobes and bedside drawers; be sure to check along the joints and seals.
- Lamps, mirrors, and picture frames can also be home to bed bugs, so make sure visual inspections of ornaments and hanging decorations are carried out regularly.
Train your staff to inspect the above areas for bed bug eggs which are usually laid in batches of one – five eggs. The eggs are a milky-white colour and are usually found in cracks and crevices like those described above.
In addition, you can look out for small red or brown stains which are caused by blood from the bed bugs biting, and also from their excrement. Unpleasant, sickly sweet odours can also be a sign, caused by exoskeletons, faeces, and pheromones.
Why are bed bugs such a problem?
As mentioned previously, bed bugs will do more harm to your reputation than they will to guests so it’s in your best interest to treat the issue as soon as you become aware of it.
Eradicating bed bugs is notoriously difficult, however. They multiply quickly, with a single female capable of laying 500 eggs in her lifetime. Not only do they multiply at an alarming rate, but they can go for extended periods of time without feeding. Studies show an adult bed bug can live up to 550 days without eating, although generally, it’s closer to a year.
Bed bugs squeeze into the smallest of cracks and gaps and to successfully eliminate them, every single last one has to be killed. Depending on conditions, bed bugs can produce three to four generations in a single year. So even if you think you have found them all, if a few are missed, the problem can fastly return.
Dust mites live in your pillows and mattresses, feeding off hair and dead skin. While they are not parasites (they do not bite, sting or burrow into our bodies), they are a major cause of asthma and allergies.
A typical mattress can contain tens of thousands of dust mites and nearly 100,000 dust mites can live in one square metre of carpet. So just imagine the potential level of contamination your hotel rooms could be harbouring. Remember, a single person sheds enough skin in one day to feed a million dust mites.
How dust mites affect guests
Unlike bed bugs, dust mites are far too small to see with the naked eye and need at least x10 magnification to correctly identify.
But just because they can’t be seen doesn’t mean you don’t need to worry about them. While relatively harmless to most, their faeces create a protein which causes allergic reactions in many. If no precautions are taken and the level of dust mites increases, then allergens can actually develop. High levels of dust mites and their waste can cause previously non-affected people to develop an allergy. In addition, dust mites can also cause nasal polyps growth within the nose.
A single dust mite produces approximately twenty droppings a day, each of which contains a protein. It is this protein that many are allergic to and causes symptoms ranging from itchy eyes to asthma attacks.
Regular vacuuming of mattresses and pillows, along with the use of plastic covers and enclosures is the single most effective way of preventing dust mites. Decreasing temperatures to below 21oC and relative humidity to below 50% can also inhibit their survival.
POOR AIR QUALITY
In cities and towns across the UK and the world, air quality is suffering. It seems to be long gone where we could honestly claim to breathe clean, fresh air. But what has this got to do with your hotel?
The outside air quality directly affects indoor air quality, and in some studies, the indoor air quality has actually been found to be worse than that outside! We all have to breathe in order to live. So when the air is full of pollution or laden with airborne diseases, it can make us ill as a result of simply breathing.
If your hotel has little to no air filtration, you run the risk of allowing incoming external pollution. And if we cannot control the wider pollution, we can at least try to control the indoor air quality of our buildings.
All buildings need adequate ventilation to replenish oxygen from the air and displace the carbon dioxide that’s exhaled. And all buildings, by law, are required to offer a level of ventilation to help reduce the risk of damp and condensation, prevent the build-up of bacteria, and to remove allergens and pollutants from the air. But what if the air being brought into the building isn’t clean, either?
Airborne pollutants can be either chemical or biological. Biological pollutants include mould, dust mites, pollen, animal dander, and bacteria, while chemical pollutants include radon, formaldehyde, and combustion by-product’s such as carbon monoxide.
When air quality is poor, you can suffer from irritated eyes, nose and throat, a shortness of breath, aggravated asthma, and other respiratory conditions. Poor air quality can also affect your heart and cardiovascular system, while breathing polluted air for long periods of time can cause more serious health problems.
DUTY OF CARE
As a business owner, you have a duty of care to those who use your building. This includes both guests and staff. Having a thorough cleaning regime and safety guidelines in place will help protect you from the above risks. Remember, guests will often take for granted that they are safe when staying in a hotel, as do employees when coming to work.
Don’t wait for disaster to strike. Contagious illnesses, bedbugs, and specialist hygiene defences should be part of your contingency plan to ensure that your hotel remains open—or can re-open— as soon as possible with minimum downtime, impact to your reputation, and the health of your guests and staff.