Healthy at Work

Edition: November 2012 - Vol 20 Number 11
Article#: 4120
Author: Repertoire

When one considers the germs, bacteria and viruses lurking on desk phones and keyboards, you have to ask yourself: Is it safe to go into the office?

From microwave doors and refrigerator handles in the break room to vending machine buttons to computer keyboards, employees must navigate not just a few germs, but an infestation. In a recent study by Kimberly Clark Professional, Dr. Charles Gerba, professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, and his team of researchers swabbed nearly 5,000 surfaces in office buildings housing about 3,000 employees, including law firms, insurance companies, call centers and manufacturing facilities, according to U.S. World & News Report.

Using an ATP meter, which measures levels of adenosine triphosphate to assess sanitary conditions, hygienists rated those surfaces highest in bacteria and viruses. Objects with a reading of 300 ATP or higher are considered to have a high risk for illness transmission. Two areas that stood out: break room sink faucets and microwave door handles. About 75 percent of break room sink faucet handles and 48 percent of microwave door handles were deemed to have an ATP count of 300 or higher. Other areas with high ATP ratings included:

• Keyboards (27 percent).

• Refrigerator door handles (26 percent).

• Water fountain buttons (23 percent).

• Vending machine buttons (21 percent).

Computer mice, desk phones and coffee pots/dispensers appear to be other ATP-infested areas in the work place.

As much of a turnoff as this may be to some people, particularly those at high risk for various disease, as well as tried-and-true germaphobes, no one needs to feel helpless, note experts. By following several common sense tactics, employees stand a healthy chance of remaining, well, healthy in the workplace:

Wash your hands. Upon arriving at work, after using the restroom, after coughing or sneezing, or before and after eating – handwashing for at least 30 seconds with soap is one of the surest ways to protect oneself from germs.

Wipe down your space. Some studies suggest the desk has over 400 times more germs than a toilet seat. Using disinfectant wipes to clean one’s desk – including the keyboard, mouse and telephone – at least once a day can make a big difference in terms of one’s health, say experts. And, while they’re at it, employees should take time to wipe down such common areas as kitchen sink handles, refrigerator and microwave handles, kitchen countertops, conference room tables and phones, and water fountain buttons, according to U.S. World & News Report. When one considers that germs can live for up to 48 hours on surfaces, the few minutes it takes to pitch in are worth it.

Sanitize. Employees should keep a hand sanitizer on their desk – and use it before and after meetings and at the end of the day.

Stay clean. Leaving old food on one’s desk or in drawers is an invitation for viruses and bacteria.

Don’t come to work sick. Staying home when ill is one way of avoiding the spread of germs.

Keep your hands down. Touching one’s face and mouth, chewing on pencils, licking one’s thumb to turn a page – habits such as these lead to the spread of germs and more sickness in the office place.

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