Part two of this three-part article focuses on the financial cost of workplace illnesses.

Workplace illnesses aren’t simply an annoyance, they are an incredibly costly problem for facility executives. Absenteeism and “presenteeism” (when employees come to work sick) can dramatically reduce productivity — to the sum of $227 billion in losses to the U.S. economy each year, according to a study by The Integrated Benefits Institute, a health research organization.

A large portion of that amount is the direct result of community-acquired infections that cause a drop in productivity and an increase in insurance premiums.

“Someone going to work with a common cold costs about $280 per employee,” says Gerba. “If you have three or four people with a cold or flu, the numbers add up quickly and can be very costly.”

Traditional office employees account for $84 billion of the total annual productivity losses from communicable illness in this country, but no industry is immune. For example:

• Healthcare: Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) — infections acquired in the hospital while getting care for other issues — affect 1.7 million people each year and kill about 100,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HAIs cost the healthcare system between $35-45 billion annually.

• Foodservice: Nearly 50 million Americans get foodborne illnesses, which result in $51 billion in lost productivity and medical and death-related expenses. Restaurants can lose much more money from the ensuing bad publicity and litigation expenses.

• Public Education: Many states pay districts based, at least in part, on daily enrollment averages. A Michigan University study found children’s illnesses cost public schools about $40 billion. What’s more, those kids’ parents missed 125 million workdays each year at a cost of $25 billion in lost productivity.

“A modest investment in improving cleaning processes can go a long way in bringing down those numbers,” says Bill Balek, director of legislative and environmental services for ISSA. “Cleaning can mitigate the spread of infectious diseases and offer a large return on investment.”

BSCs should pay attention to studies and stories related to the costs of sick buildings. The more real-world statistics contractors can share with clients, the more interested those clients are likely to become in cleaning for health vs. cleaning for appearance.