Your office is most certainly bugged. Every square inch of every desk is home to a veritable city of unpleasant germs which can cause anything from mild stomach upsets to serious diseases.
And it’s not just desks – door handles, headsets, keyboards, printers and water coolers are all hotspots for viruses and bacteria.
We can clean and sanitise as much we like; germs will multiply and spread, it’s part of life. However, minimising exposure to illness-inducing bugs is not only a sensible measure but a commercially important one. An effective cleaning regime can significantly reduce sickness and absence.
Here are five of the most common germs found in an office, what illnesses they cause and how we can keep them at bay.
Norovirus causes the scourge of offices, schools and hospitals up and down the country – the winter vomiting bug.
One of the main ways it spreads is people not washing their hands effectively after going to the toilet. Studies vary, but it is estimated that 20% of people don’t wash their hands at all and a staggering 95% of people don’t wash them effectively.
Those hands then dip onto offered crisp packets, they touch the printer and they open doors around the office. This potentially leaves our friend the norovirus in its wake and before you know it, half the office is off sick.
The key to minimising the risk of an outbreak of winter vomiting is effective hand-washing. Use an antimicrobial handwash such as OxyBAC Fresh Foam Wash and consider installing a guide to washing hands in the washroom.
Surfaces and office equipment should also be thoroughly cleaned, particularly after an outbreak, with a strong disinfectant cleaner such as Oxivir Plus.
2. Influenza virus
Real ‘flu (as opposed to a heavy cold) can be a debilitating experience with fever, runny nose, headaches and joint pains. The influenza virus spreads mainly through the air when infected people cough or sneeze and it also transfers from hands.
Luckily, although it’s a powerful virus inside the body, it is a bit of a weakling outside of it and, unlike norovirus, it dies quite quickly. Thorough hand-washing is the best defence against the spread of the virus. You should scrub your hands for at least 15 seconds.
The dreaded office kitchen, where mouldy yoghurts lurk in the fridge and arguments over responsibility for them abound, is germ-central. One of the most dangerous bacteria in the kitchen is salmonella, which causes food poisoning.
Salmonella is found in raw food, particularly meat, eggs and even some vegetables. It is worth considering a ban on these items for your office kitchen. Measures to prevent cross-contamination include keeping food stuffs separated and making sure that staff have access to a basin and anti-bacterial handwash.
Throw away your sponges and cloths, as these contain thousands of bacteria could be simply spreading salmonella around the kitchen. Instead, opt for single use microfibre cloths such as Vileda MicroOne.
4. E. coli
E Coli (the E stands for escherichia, in case you wondered) is a nasty little bacterium that can cause diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach cramps. Usually we hear of outbreaks from batches of foodstuffs such as green leafy vegetables and raw milk products. But it can also be spread through contact with infected people.
And once again, it comes down to not washing your hands properly after gong to the toilet. E Coli is extremely infectious as very few bacteria are needed to cause illness. Effective hand-washing guidelines are a good start and also a regular deep clean of offices and washrooms, on top of your normal daily cleaning regime. A great all-round cleaner which kills 99.9% of bacteria is Cleantec Pro 3 Anti-Bacterial Multi-Purpose Cleaner.
5. Staphylococcus aureus
A bacterium that lives on our skin and in our respiratory tract, Staphylococcus aureus only causes problems when it gets under the skin through cuts or wounds. It can be spread person to person or when people are using the same equipment and it most commonly causes skin infections such as impetigo, boils and carbuncles. Lovely.
Keeping office equipment clean is important and making sure that everyone keep cuts covered and wounds dressed properly will help. If you have a towel in the washroom, ditch it, and get a dispensing system such as the Katrin System Towel Dispenser. You don’t want your staff to get a staph infection!
Beat the office bugs
Viruses and bacteria are all around us and most of the time we get by without too much trouble. But good practice can dramatically reduce the risks of outbreaks and illness – and, it follows, absenteeism. Keep these key points in mind:
- Encourage and facilitate effective hand washing – hands are responsible for the transfer of 80% of germs
- Ensure a daily cleaning regime for desk tops and office equipment
- Carry out a regular deep clean
- Have policies for the handling of food and cleaning the kitchen
- Pay attention to the hot spots – door handles, the printer buttons, telephones, keyboards, the office kitchen and the water cooler.
- Make people go home when they are ill!