The Japanese dish fugu, which is prepared from the pufferfish, hosts a deadly poison in its ovaries and liver, and if prepared the wrong way, it can claim a life. It kills quite a number of people a year. There is no known remedy for its poison, which is equated with “a culinary Russian roulette”. Only a trained chef, who must take a rigid government examination, is permitted by law to prepare it. Yet, the Japanese consume this dish at the rate of thousands of tonnes a year.

Three weeks ago, I thought about it while I was in a supermarket close to where I live. I was heading to its fruits and vegetable wing. Crossing by the personal hygiene items section, two young sales workers stood side by side, both wearing face masks. Just as I was passing by, one of them coughed and sneezed.

As though it was not enough on its own, she removed her mask just before she sneezed. If one is not wearing a mask, it is recommended to cover the mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It could also be the inside of the elbow if a tissue is available. Imagine if fugu had been a local dish here, which does not only require a hygienic process to prepare but extreme care to remove all kinds of toxins. It would have been a disaster.

It was immediately after that I returned to the entrance of the supermarket, had a few words with the supervisor and left the scene. No doubt, core sales capabilities from customer relationship management were in short supply. Hygiene awareness was missing, as the circumstances for self-quarantining ill employees from the work and customers’ area were not observed.

As I was walking to my house, I contemplated the word hygiene. It took me to a story that a friend told me recently. Coming out from college and after years of experience under his belt, he was in Harare, Zimbabwe. One day with another friend, while walking in the city centre, they could not resist stopping at a burger joint. They had it made to go and ate as they walked. When they finished, they threw the big towel-sized paper tissues on the road.

As they stood dumbfounded, a little girl with an elementary school uniform, while maintaining a bit of a condescending look towards them, collected their refuses and threw them in the rubbish dump.

My friend should have known better. Hygiene was one among the academic subjects when we were in early elementary school. We took it on Mondays. Our instructor was our clinic health officer – Teacher Seid. The session started with a parade in front of our classroom to inspect how properly we were groomed. It was tough love in hygiene lessons.

Teacher Seid was a man with a soft speaking countenance, though he had an aura of imposition. One could have heard a pin drop during his classes. It was perhaps the most directly applicable science lessons we had at school, all about safeguarding health through relevant clean or healthy practices.

As we were promoted to the second grade, our most respected yet beloved teacher retired, and it coincided with the onset of the 1970s Ethiopian revolution. It was only after I went to college, I once again heard about the word “hygiene.”

At university, we read Frederick Herzberg's motivation-hygiene theory, which underlies that if management wishes to increase satisfaction on the job, it should be concerned with the nature of the work itself – the opportunities it presents for gaining status, assuming responsibility, and for achieving self-realisation. If, on the other hand, management wishes to reduce dissatisfaction, then it must focus on the workplace environment - policies, procedures, supervision, and working conditions - which he called hygiene factors. They do not give positive satisfaction or lead to higher motivation. Yet dissatisfaction results from the absence of “hygiene.” If management is equally concerned with both, it must pay attention to both sets of job factors, Herzberg concluded.

Yet, now with COVID-19 epidemic concerns added, working conditions are posing a further fugu-adjacent challenge. While the link between hygiene and the disease outbreak has been ascertained for centuries, our knowledge of occupational hygiene to our specific duties never looks complete. It is about time that employers add hygiene to the Herzbergian "hygiene."

PUBLISHED ON Nov 20,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1125]

Tadesse Tsegaye (, a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.

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