You might not realise it, but right now you have 10 million co-workers you’ve never seen.
According to a study by the University of Arizona, that’s how many germs the average office worker comes into contact with every day. Not convinced? Let’s take a closer look.
Lay the facts on the table
A restaurant table with more than 700 bacteria per square inch is considered dangerously unsanitary.
But the study found that bankers’ cubicles had over 5,000 bacteria per square inch, and accountants’ had over 6,000.
Teachers’ desks ranked the highest with almost three times more than that – which may not surprise any parent that’s been laid low by a bug their offspring brought home from school.
In fact Dr. Charles Gerba, the micro-biologist who lead the research, said the average office desk is home to 400 times more germs than the typical toilet seat. Still fancy a quick sandwich in front of your screen this lunchtime?
Give me a break
One more thing before you retreat to the kitchen to scrub your hands. In a separate study the same researchers found that 75% of break room sink taps, 48% of microwave controls and 26% of refrigerator door handles were sufficiently contaminated to transmit illness.
Shared kitchens are actually much worse for bacteria and viruses than restrooms, because cleaning staff regularly wipe down toilet seats and sinks with disinfectant.
“People are aware of the risk of germs in the restroom,” said Dr. Gerba. “But areas like break rooms have not received the same degree of attention.”
5 ways to reduce the risk of infection
According to Dr. Gerba, respiratory bugs and viruses can scatter throughout a workplace in as few as four hours and can survive on surfaces for days.
But if you follow these five simple steps, you and your employees could reduce the likelihood of cold, flu and stomach illness by as much as 80 percent:
1. Make sure common areas are well stocked with soap, anti-bacterial wipes and alcohol-based hand gel.
2. Use disinfecting wipes on your phone, desk and computer keyboard at least once a day – especially if you regularly have lunch at your desk.
3. The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases polled almost 1,000 workers and over a third said they felt compelled to go to work even when they were ill. Don’t do it! You’re slowing your own recovery, and increasing the risk of illness for everyone else.
4. Avoid putting your bag on your desk. How often have you gone to a restroom, or been on the street waiting for a bus or train, and put your bag on the floor? Imagine the horrible things your bag might have picked up!
5. Don’t keep food or make-up in desk drawers. Forgotten perishables are a banquet for bacteria and mould.