On the Job – Germs: Here, there and everywhere

Did you know that most workspaces have hundreds of times more bacteria than a toilet seat? Toilets are often cleaned and sterilized on a weekly basis, whereas your workstation may not be. Dirt and bacteria can become trapped in your keyboard, on your mouse, and anywhere around your desk. Many cleaning crews will stay away from the computer area, for fear of damaging equipment. It is up to you to keep your workstation clean and germ free.

Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona , discovered that the average office toilet seat had 49 germs per square inch. Desktops had almost 21,000 germs per square inch, and phones had more than 25,000 germs per square inch. Desks, phones, computer keyboards and your mouse are key germ transfer points because people touch them so often, Gerba said, adding that coughing and sneezing can leave behind “a minefield of viruses” that can live on a surface for up to three days.

Here are a few recommendations to help you avoid those pesky germs and bacteria in your workplace:

Wash your hands

We all know that we need to wash our hands – children are reminded of this daily – but sometimes adults need to be reminded as well. The key is to wash your hands properly. Wash for 20 seconds with soap and warm water. This is better than a quick squirt of hand sanitizer at your desk. Water penetrates much deeper; helping to remove food debris and other particles that hand sanitizer just doesn’t reach. Although, a hand sanitizer is a good option when you are on-the-go.

Clean out your keyboard

Most office cleaning companies do not touch computers or keyboards because they don’t want to risk causing any damage. Hygiene is left to the employee, and many don’t bother. Gerba suggests using an alcohol-based sanitizer for cleaning the keyboard. Simply blowing compressed air over it is not going to remove bacteria clinging to the surface. The best practice is to disinfect AND use compressed air.

Protect your face

Office workers touch their hands to their faces an average of 18 times an hour. When we touch our faces, we bring all the collected gunk from our keyboard, desktop or phone right to our respiratory and digestive systems every three and a half minutes – bacteria and viruses couldn’t ask for a better transportation system.

Dispose of unwanted food

People often eat at their desks or store food in the drawer. Crumbs can accumulate and provide a giant breeding ground for bacteria. Unclean work areas can pose hazards to a worker’s health and a liability to the business.

Women spread more germs in the workplace than men – a controversial fact indeed. But before women take offense, the higher germ concentration is proof that women have a healthier diet than men. Women, Gerba found, tend to store apples, bananas, and other biodegradable, healthy food at their desk, while men go for less nutritious and therefore less germ-ridden junk food. Dispose of any unwanted or uneaten food immediately. Don’t keep it around for it to be forgotten and pushed to the back of your desk drawer.

Don’t let germs crawl

Bacteria and germs can multiply and make their way from one cubicle or workspace to another. Gerba recommends taking note of your neighbor’s hygiene practices, and to take precautions so that the sharing of bacteria doesn’t occur.