When it comes to germ hotspots, we think we know where the germiest areas in the workplace are. Our mind usually drifts to the toilet seat – however, the number of germs that can spread on things like keyboards, soap dispensers and door handles may shock you.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, people globally have been reassessing their hygiene routines. We all wash our hands more thoroughly and frequently, and there has been a focus on how to clean our workplaces properly in order to prevent the spread of germs and viruses.
Throughout any workplace, there are a number of different touchpoints that are used frequently every day, by countless amounts of individuals. It’s important to be aware of where these touchpoints are, and how to limit the spread of bacteria from them.
When we think of germs, we automatically go straight to the bathroom. However, the office itself is just as germy as the washroom.
In fact, your keyboard could be home to up to three times as many bacteria as a public toilet seat. Worse still, an average office desk could have up to 400 times as many germs as your average toilet seat.
Unfortunately, keyboards and desks are essential to productivity in office spaces. These are touchpoints that cannot be eliminated; therefore, they must be cleaned (and cleaned properly).
To limit the growth of bacteria, especially in spaces with hot-desking where utilities are shared by multiple employees, place tubs of antibacterial wipes around the office to allow for easy cleaning. Additionally, you should install sanitiser dispensers around the office to allow staff to easily access them. Encourage staff to clean their desks before they begin their working day, and place posters around the workspace to remind them to do so.
In hospitality environments, employees will be fully aware of the germs that exist in their kitchens and how to tackle these. However, where a kitchen is installed in an office environment, employees may not be aware of best practices, or what kind of bacteria may be lurking there.
Even though a small office kitchen may not be used to prepare and cook meals from scratch every day, it can still harbour a lot of bacteria and general dirt. Microwaves are often used to heat up lunches, and kettles to make tea and coffee. Fridges are often stocked with multiple cartons of milk and containers of food, so it’s no wonder that germs begin to build up here.
Therefore, it’s important to enforce strict kitchen cleaning rules in the workplace. Encourage staff not only to clean up after themselves, but before themselves, too. Again, place antibacterial wipes, or a spray and some cloths, in the kitchen to allow employees to clean things before and after they use them. A little cleaning goes a long way.
The washroom is, understandably, one of the workplace’s dirtiest areas. Washrooms have countless users every day and have multiple touchpoints within them – most of which are unavoidable. We pick up most germs with our hands, and considering we have to touch taps, soap dispensers and door handles within the bathroom, it’s no surprise that we can pick up many germs here.
Additionally, washrooms provide the perfect environment for germs not only to grow, but to thrive. They are a moist environment with lots of traffic, and the more users a bathroom has, the more bacteria that will grow there.
One of the only ways to limit the germs transmitted in a bathroom is to wash hands thoroughly. Washing hands properly can help to reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses like the cold by 21%. However, personal hygiene can only be controlled to an extent, and as much as we’d like to believe that everyone washes their hands properly at work, studies have shown that only 60% of people wash their hands properly after using the bathroom. To try to increase this number, install signs around the bathroom to remind people. It’s also important to make sure that your bathroom is fully stocked with the equipment necessary – such as soap and paper towels.
Aside from encouraging handwashing, you can try to limit the number of touchpoints for bacteria to cling to in a bathroom. Touchless dispensers are a good place to start. Hand dryers should also be operated by a sensor where possible, as should taps.
The other main touchpoint in the washroom is the door. Where possible, with good planning the door itself could be removed entirely. However, this isn’t possible in some spaces, and to manage this you should place a touch-free sanitiser dispenser by the door to encourage staff members to remove any remaining germs on their hands.
In addition to this, an infographic produced by Kimberly-Clark Professional as part of their Healthy Workplace Project revealed that with over 20,000 germs per square inch, the average office desk has 400 times more germs than toilet seats. So when you’re working hard, your immune system clearly is too!
But just in case you weren’t convinced, here are yet 10 more things that have been found to be dirtier than a toilet seat. Prepare to be shocked!
10 surprising things that have more germs than a toilet seat:
- Gym equipment – A study by Fitrated found that in the average gym, the free weights had up to 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat – so download our free cleaning schedule template for gyms to keep the bacteria at bay
- Chopping boards – University of Arizona researchers found that household chopping boards harboured up to 200 times more fecal bacteria than a toilet seat due to its presence in raw meat
- Beards – Yes, beards! Microbiologist John Golobic, of Quest Diagnostics in New Mexico took swabs from men’s beards, and found that some contained levels of faecal bacteria that were on a par with toilets
- Handbags – Women aren’t off the hook either. Good Housekeeping Institute found that the bottoms of handbags are one of the worst places in the household for germs, as they’re often placed on floors
- Kitchen sinks – The NHS claims that kitchen sinks can contain 100,000 times more bacteria than a toilet, so make sure it’s cleaned daily with a food safe surface cleaner
- Laundry – Your supposedly clean load of washing may be the opposite. Dr. Charles Gerba found that washing underwear can transfer about 500million E. coli bacteria to the machine, which temperatures of 30 or 40 degrees aren’t high enough to kill, so give your machine a hot wash at least once a month
- Kitchen sponges – A study published by Scientific Reports revealed that kitchen environments harbour more bacteria than toilets, with kitchen sponges being the worst cuprits
- Carpets – Research conducted by microbiologist and immunologist Philip Tierno Jr., Ph.D. found that carpets contain so much bacteria that they can be up to 4,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat
- Washroom sink taps – An infographic published by PlumbWorld claimed that washroom taps have been found to have 21 times more germs than toilet seats, as they’re the last spot touched before you wash your hands
- Light switches – The infographic also claimed that light switches, which may be touched by multiple people throughout the day, can have over 200 bacteria per square inch
Protecting yourself from germs in public places
Even if you still can’t bring yourself to stop covering the toilet seat with paper before you sit, here’s something to consider: it can actually make germs more likely to come into contact with your skin.
That’s because toilet seats are designed to prevent bacteria from spreading in the first place. They have smooth, rounded plastic surfaces that make it difficult for germs to attach to them. In fact, Professor Val Curtis from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told The Huffington Post UK that any bacteria living on a toilet seat would most likely be “dead” within an hour.
On the other hand, toilet tissue is absorbent and is kept next to the toilet – which makes it more likely to absorb germs from the air when the toilets are flushed. So when you sit down on toilet paper, you’re exposing yourself to more bacteria – although it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll get sick from a toilet seat, whether it’s lined with toilet tissue or not.
On the whole, you’d be better off following our tips on how to protect yourself from germs in public washrooms, which include practicing good hand washing techniques.
If all of this has got you thinking about improving your cleaning routine, take a read of our article about the powers of biological cleaning products.