The winter months have always had a significant impact on productivity in the workplace, with common colds and bugs causing numerous absences within workplaces across the UK. We have always been aware that offices are breeding grounds for the spreading of germs, if one person arrives at work with a cold it’s likely that another person will soon be sniffing and sneezing.
Last year the coronavirus pandemic shifted our hygienic practices up a gear as we were constantly being reminded to wash our hands and keep a safe distance from each other. Now, people are slowly returning to the office and we will no doubt be thinking about how safe it is and where the possible contamination points could be. Coronavirus isn’t a thing of the past and the threat of contamination remains very real for most of us as we head into the gloomy winter months.
It is therefore imperative we are aware of both the usual winter illnesses (such as Norovirus and other contagious diseases) and the new COVID-19 virus, how illnesses are transmitted in an office environment and the steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of contracting them.
In this blog we will look at advice for businesses and employees, as well as the specialist cleaning routines offices should be adopting to ensure a healthy working environment for their staff.
Here are some ways you can protect your staff from illness and keep your workplace healthy.
Promote good hand hygiene standards
Staff should be washing their hands regularly with good quality soap and hand sanitiser stations should always be available in the office and in the reception desk area. The most effective kind of sanitisers are alcohol-based with a minimum of 60 percent alcohol, which forms a long-lasting barrier across hands, protecting against germs for a few hours after use.
Keep your desk clean
You might think your desk is clean, but it is one of the least hygienic places in the office and transfers a lot of germs. Are you ready for some facts about what may be lurking on your office desk?
- Keyboards contain 70 percent more bacteria than a toilet seat
- Office phones host around 25,000 germs per square inch
- Office desks are more than 400 times dirtier than a toilet seat
- The area on your desk where your hand's rest has around 10,000 bacteria
Desk cleaning Tips
- If you are hot-desking and using a phone that others have used, have a pack of antimicrobial wipes handy to get rid of bacteria that cause colds and flu viruses. Some time taken to clean your phone could mean fewer days off work
- If you’re eating at your desk, wash your hands before touching food or use a hand sanitiser.
- Move the keyboard away so it doesn’t collect and harbour crumbs
- Use anti-microbial hand gel if you can’t be sure your hands are clean when using the phone
- Throw away your packaging rather than leaving it on the desk. Leaving food or mess around could encourage pesky flies or other insects.
- Pen chewing – try to break the habit. If you don’t know where a pen has been, you could be ingesting bacteria or viruses left by someone else. It could have been in someone else's mouth, gathering dust or dropped on the floor.
- Give borrowed pens a clean with an anti-bacterial wipe.
When it comes to cleanliness and hygiene in the office, you wouldn't automatically think about washing your hands after opening a door for someone. But, some studies have highlighted that a door handle has over 30 times more bacteria than a toilet seat! Door handles are the most common touchpoints in the workplace, and given their shared use, precautions should be taken.
Doors, bannisters, lift buttons, and anything that is frequently touched by lots of people, may need more regular cleaning than normal.
How to make door handles safer
- Always wash your hands after using the toilet
- Use some tissue, your elbows or your hand within a sleeve to open the door
- Before getting back to work, use anti-bacterial gel – especially if you’re about to eat
Keeping the staff kitchen clean
The office kitchen is a hotspot for bacteria and viruses in particular the kitchen sink, microwave door and fridge. You could pick up a bug from touching fridges after colleagues have put their germs on them, but there are also dangers in keeping food past its use-by date, especially in a fridge that is not working very well.
This could increase your risk of contracting Listeria which is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. An estimated 1600 people get listeriosis each year, and about 260 die.
Take particular care over ready-to-eat foods such as sandwiches and salads. Eat them in date, and keep below 5 °C. If you are worried about keeping food at the correct temperature ask for a thermometer, they are relatively inexpensive and can be bought easily online or at the supermarket.
Care must also be taken when storing food shopping in the office fridge before heading home. Raw meat and vegetables can be contaminated with bacteria such as Campylobacter or E. coli. These can even be found on the outer packaging.
Try and be mindful about other people’s food left in the fridge and make sure you don’t put their ready-to-eat food at risk of contamination by putting raw meat next to their sandwiches.
Fridge cleaning tips:
- Remove any out-of-date food – no questions asked!
- Start a policy to clear the fridge out at the end of the week and clean it
- Protect your own food by placing in plastic lidded containers
- Separate compartments. Keep ready-to-eat foods at the top of the fridge away from raw foods. Once you have opened a pack it will go off quicker than its original use-by-date – follow the instructions on the pack.
Regularly clean your mouse and keyboard
There have been several studies and experiments which highlight the potential areas for bacteria and viruses within the office environment. In one such study, more than 3000 micro-organisms per square inch were found on keyboards and over 1,600 bacteria per square inch on a computer mouse. To put those numbers into perspective only 49 micro-organisms are found on toilet seats.
You might feel comfortable if you knew it was your own bacteria but if you are hot-desking, then other germs could easily be transmitted onto your hands.
Keyboard and mouse cleaning tips
- Gently shake out the keyboard to dislodge any big particles
- Used compressed air to blow dust and debris out from the keys
- Use a dust vacuum to sweep up hard to remove debris between keys
- Clean around the keys with a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol
- If hot-desking, clean your keyboard and mouse using an anti-microbial wipe – you or previous users could have a cold and this helps to stop the spread
- Use anti-microbial hand gel if you can’t be sure your hands are clean
- A Q-tip, or earbud cleaner or microfibre cloth is useful for cleaning the mouse
- An important part to clean on the mouse it’s sensor, a dirty sensor will mess with the mouse tracking ability. Gently swab the sensor with the Q-tip.
Do you have your own mug?
Tea or coffee? It’s usually a question that comes around first thing or mid-morning in the office. Drinks and caffeine is the fuel that keeps everyone alert and focused, although too much can have a negative effect including rebound fatigue and temporary high blood pressure. But, the negative effects of coffee may be dwarfed by the potential effects of mould and bacteria which may be hitching a ride on your favourite drinking receptacle.
Simple rinsing may not remove a colleague’s germs and the outside surface of the mug could be contaminated by their hands. If they have a cold, you could contract their germs.
Mug cleaning tips
- Use the office dishwasher if you have one. If not, use your own mug.
- Wash up your dedicated mug in the evening.
- Leave it on your desk ready for your use only the next day (don’t share it).
- Get a mug and bottle for hot drinks. Choose smooth surfaces so they’re easy to wash (preferably in the dishwasher).
By thinking more and acting on hygiene and cleanliness in the workplace you will be safeguarding yourself against winter colds and the potential threat of COVID-19.
Finally, breakout areas, including soft seating arrangements, have become increasingly popular as people have returned to work in the wake of mainstream Covid-19 and antimicrobial fabric is another consideration when it comes to workplace hygiene. You can find out more about antimicrobial fabrics, types of vinyl, and breakout furniture here.
Thanks for reading, stay safe!