Crazy Facts About Germs in the Workplace (and Absenteeism)

Computer Keyboard GermsHaving a clean workplace is important. Not only does it make the office look nice, but it affects the business’ bottom line. In fact, cleanliness and tidiness is one of the solutions to absenteeism in the workplace. According to a joint study by Gallup and Healthways, the cost of those sick days on the U.S. economy can be as much as $84 billion each year.

Influenza is responsible for approximately 200 million days of reduced productivity and 75 million days of work absence annually. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that in order to stop the spread of influenza at work, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that may be contaminated are essential.

Some of the worst places for germs are bathrooms, snack rooms and kitchens, and desks.

Bathrooms

When it comes to the germiest places at work, not surprisingly, bathrooms ranks high. On average, toilet seats have approximately 49 germs per square inch. Office bathrooms contain E. coli and fecal toxins that can cause horrible stomach and intestine illness. That then becomes bacteria on bathroom door handles, which you simply cannot avoid. The water fountain can have 2.7 million bacteria per square inch.

Break rooms / Kitchens

If you think the bathroom is dirty, you may be surprised to learn the space where you snack and lunch is equally germ-infested.

In 2012, Kimberly-Clark Professional conducted one of the most detailed and comprehensive studies ever done on “hotspots” where germs can lurk in the workplace. They discovered that “office workers are potentially being exposed to illness-causing bacteria right in their own lunchrooms.” High levels of contamination were found on:

  • 75 percent of break room sink faucet handles
  • 69 percent of refrigerator door handles
  • 48 percent of microwave door handles
  • 48 percent of all coffee pots and dispensers
  • 21 percent of vending machine buttons

“People are aware of the risk of germs in the restroom, but areas like break rooms have not received the same degree of attention,”

said Dr. Charles Gerba, professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, who worked on the study.

Desks

The CDC estimates that contact contaminated surfaces and direct human contact are the culprit of the spread of up to 80 percent of all infections. In the workplace, people touch as many as 30 objects every 60 seconds! The study by Kimberly-Clark Professional found that desks and telephones are key transfer points for germs because employees touch them so frequently. Computer keyboard germs are rampent – as many as 9800 germs per square inch! That is 200 times more bacteria than on a toilet seat!

Office spaces in the study were tested for levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). When ATP is found, it shows objects have been contaminated and suggests that bacteria and viruses may flourish there. For ATP of 100 or more, objects should be cleaned. If the ATP was 300 or more, the areas needed to be sanitized because they can spread illness. Water fountain buttons, keyboards and microwave handles that were tested typically contained ATP over 300.

How to Keep Germs from Spreading

The CDC reminds employees to wash their hands frequently and wipe down their work spaces to help reduce the spread bacteria. Additionally, hiring a professional for janitorial office cleaning to address common areas and problem areas of your office is a great way to the germs lurking in the workplace under control. This, in turn, will help keep your office staff healthy and productive.

 

Photo by Tony Webster under the Creative Commons Generic License 2.0

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