You might think that the toilet is the most germ-ridden zone in your office, but here’s the shocker: It is probably the cleanest.
According to Charles Gerba, a renowned “germ expert” and professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona in the US, restrooms are generally less contaminated with germs than many other parts of the office, as they are routinely cleaned with a disinfectant.
What makes personal and shared workspaces germ-ridden and ﬁlthy is the fact that people seldom clean or disinfect them. “Desk phones are perhaps the ﬁlthiest,” says Charles, “followed by desktops, then your computer mouse and keyboard.”
ILLUSTRATION: LEONG TZI PING
During the periods when colds and the ﬂu are spreading, about one-third of commonly touched surfaces in the ofﬁce have common disease-causing organisms such as the parainﬂuenza virus (which can cause a severe cold), the norovirus (which causes diarrhoea), and the inﬂuenza virus on them.
What’s an even greater cause for concern – the risk of getting sick just from the objects you touch is between 40 and 90 per cent. Here are some practical things you can do on your own to minimise the spread of germs at work:
1. USE HAND SANITISERS
Rub some germ-killing, no-rinse skin cleansers onto your hands each time you return to your desk, especially after touching items or surfaces in common spaces, advises Charles. In a study he and his colleagues conducted, it was found that the risk of falling sick fell to 10 per cent when people were offered tissues, hand sanitisers and disinfecting wipes to use regularly.
2. WIPE DOWN YOUR WORKSPACE
If yours is a common workspace, clean it once a day. If not, once a week is enough, says Charles.
3. DISINFECT COMMONLY TOUCHED OBJECTS
These include doorknobs, phones, keyboards and photocopier buttons. A couple of times a day should suffice.
4. WASH YOUR HANDS AFTER USING THE LOO
However, take note that washing your hands too frequently will remove your skin’s natural protective layer, leaving you vulnerable to microbe attacks. You’ll know you’re washing too often if the skin on your hands is red and raw.
5. OPEN THE WINDOWS
If your office doesn’t have a central air-conditioning system, do this to improve ventilation and air circulation.
6. USE AN AIR PURIFIER
One with a good ﬁlter can help improve air quality in a conﬁned environment.
7. DITCH THE INDOOR PLANTS
Prof Lee Yuan Kun from the department of microbiology at the National University of Singapore says that potted plants are often the source of allergens as they attract mould. In addition, bacteria also grow on the plant and soil surfaces, while certain plants release pollen.
8. TEST THE AIR QUALITY
You can buy DIY kits online that help measure air purity in enclosed spaces – so you’ll know when to prompt building management to improve the ventilation. The kits can detect mould, allergens, bacteria and other toxins. Get them at Professional House Doctors, Inc (http://prohousedr.com/DIYTestKits.htm) and Air Puriﬁers and Cleaners.com (http://www.airpurifiersandcleaners.com/).
This article was originally published in Simply Her May 2013.