Benjamin Franklin famously stated, “It is the working man who is the happy man.” That, of course, was before today’s microbiologists swabbed a few office nooks and crannies and had fun watching their petri dishes blossom as all manner of microbes did their thing. The office might just be one of the dirtiest environments you will encounter all day.
Not so happy now.
Ready for some hard and dirty facts? There are 400 times more bacteria on an average desktop than a toilet seat, according to a study led by microbiologist Charles Gerba, Ph.D., (and funded by Clorox). Why? Because while bathrooms are cleaned on a regular basis, people don’t often think to clean their desks, or they assume someone else (such as the office cleaning team) is doing it for them. Add that to that the fact that most workers, acutely aware of record unemployment levels, drag themselves to work sick, coughing and sneezing and unwittingly infecting their colleagues.
“Eighty percent of the infections you get you’re going to pick up from your environment,” says Gerba. He adds that while there are always going to be germs around us, if we touch the most germ-ridden spots and then touch our nose, mouth or eyes, we are susceptible to picking up colds, flu, strep throat, and other illnesses.
So what are the germ hot spots in your office? According to Gerba, the top five are telephones, desks, door handles, keyboards and computer mice.
Here are three things you can do to protect yourself from germ overload in the work place:
Pick a clean profession
It turns out that some professions are germier than others. According to the study, accountants are in the top germ bracket along with bankers and teachers, while publicists, lawyers and TV producers were in the bottom bracket. In fact, the bacteria levels in accountants’ offices were about seven times higher than that in lawyers’ offices. Not something they teach in career counseling class.
Don’t eat at your desk
According to a desktop dining survey conducted for the American Dietetic Association, 72 percent of workers eat at their desks and, as a result, germs find plenty to snack on as well. Very few workers clean their office areas before eating, since only a minority clean their offices: 30 percent of the women surveyed and 45 percent of the men said that they rarely or never do.
“Desks are really bacteria cafeterias,” says Gerba. “They’re breakfast buffets, lunch tables and snack bars, as we spend more and more hours at the office.”
Clean your desk properly
This may seem like a no brainer, but Gerba says that in addition to washing your hands properly, cleaning your work area, your phone, your desk, and computer keyboard and mouse just once a day will significantly cut down on your exposure to potentially harmful germs. (Bacteria found during the study included staphylococcus, on elevator buttons and on phones, which can cause skin infections and meningitis, as well as E. coli on computer mice, which can cause diarrhea and worse.)
But you have to use the right products. Wipes for use on hands and face, while great to keep in your pocket and to use as you move around the office, are not powerful enough to kill the germs that have taken up residence on your desk, phone and keyboard. For surfaces, Gerba says you need something labeled “disinfecting” or “sanitizing” in order to attack most bacteria and viruses. Otherwise, you’re just spreading the germs around.
To really decrease the spread of surface germs throughout a typical workday, use disinfecting wipes (enough for surfaces to remain visibly wet) daily on desks, computer mice and keyboards, doorknobs, and telephones, where germ levels continue to build up throughout the day. Or, if you’re feeling lazy at the end of a long day, just keep a sanitizing light in your desk drawer and run it over your desk before you leave each night.
And, despite what your mother may have taught you, whenever possible, don’t share! Don’t let anyone use your phone, check their email on your computer or have lunch at your desk. At the very least, keep a touch-free hand sanitizer on your desk that you can use and encourage germy colleagues to use when they stop by. That’s right; you can become one of those people, the office germaphobe. At least you will stay healthy and keep your space clean!