February 27th, 2006

They’re Sly: The Dirty Secret About Office Germs

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It turns out that health-conscious employers and employees have more to worry about than whether the office furniture is a good ergonomic fit.


Experts who count the kind of germs that lead to sick days, absenteeism and reduced productivity say disease-causing microbes lurk in unexpected places, and the average desk is home to 400 times more germs than the toilet.

The term “germs” covers bacteria, viruses, fungi and even parasites. Not all cause disease, but many are bad news in the workplace.

Studies show the average desk surface has 20,961 germs per square inch, according to a Canadian company promoting anti-bacterial office products. Citing experts in their February press release, the Grand & Toy company explained that under the right conditions bacteria concentrates on keyboards, mice and telephones, and particularly on shared equipment.

Their experts counted more than 49 microbes per square inch on toilet seats, 69 microbes per square inch on photocopiers, 1,676 microbes per square inch on mice, 3,295 per square inch on keyboards and 25,127 microbes per square inch on telephones.

And there are other germ hot spots. Charles “Dr. Germ” Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, counts more germs on bathroom door handles and on bathroom faucets than on toilet seats. In an interview with Delaware On Line in February, he suggested workers also need to be wary of shared pens, elevator buttons, vending machine buttons, chair armrests, escalator and elevator handrails.

The water cooler may be the worst site of all. Public health organization NSF International counted 2.7 million germs per square inch on some water spigots.

Unlike toilets, which tend to be cleaned regularly, our keyboards, phone receivers and desks rarely receive a wipe-down, Gerba said. He’s even found E. coli in candy bowls. For shared workspaces, Gerba recommends using disinfecting wipes on any exposed hard surface, especially the phone, which is the top offender for cold and flu bugs. Plain antibacterial wipes won’t do because they don’t kill cold and flu bugs, he said.

Employers concerned about the high cost of an unhealthy workplace have introduced ergonomically-friendly furniture, cleaner air and better lighting to address some of the threats. Against infectious diseases they need a different arsenal. Anti-bacterial wipes and desktop items coated anti-microbe chemicals are available for the purpose. Germ counting experts regard awareness of the places germs concentrate as a particularly solid defense against illness, combined with frequent hand washing to flush off microbes before they can cause trouble.

Sources: Grand & Toy; Delaware Online



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