17 February, 2015
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How clean is your office?

(Part 1)

There is so much to say on the matter of dirt that we have a 2 part blog for you on what bacteria you find in the office, the worst offending places for germs and how they spread. Then we’ll have a second part on how bacteria can affect you in the workplace and what we can do about it.

So, in any speck of dust there are millions of bacteria but not all are harmful. Some bacteria are the kinds used for fighting infection not creating it. However there are a number of potentially quite damaging bacteria that you can find including E.coli and the norovirus. One of the most commonly found bacteria is staphylococcus aureus, also known simply as ‘staph’. Staph is found in nasal membranes, skin and hair follicles and can cause a wide range of infections including serious illnesses such as pneumonia.

In extensive studies of bacteria in the workplace by Charles Gerba, microbiologist at the University of Arizona, the worst offending areas for germs in an office have been revealed – no huge surprises as to which places come out top but it might be surprising to know the cleanest areas…

  • Phone – This is the most unhygienic piece of office equipment that you’ll find – it’s held directly up against your mouth and rarely disinfected. This leaves the average office phone with a whopping 25,127 bacteria per surface.
  • Top of the Desk – Coming in a close second with 20,961 bacteria per surface. And apparently ladies are the worst perpetrators; “Women tend to be at their desks longer than men, and they tend to keep a lot more things on their desktops, too,” says Donna Duberg, assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. When left uncleaned, the lunch, snacks, a stash of chocolate, magazines, photos of the kids, flowers, plants and candles become a “buffet of bacteria”.
  • Keyboard – Gerba suggests that the average keyboard has around 3,295 bacteria per surface. Microbiologist Dr Peter Wilson comments that a keyboard is frequently, “a reflection of what is in your nose and in your gut.” Try tipping your keyboard upside down on a white piece of paper to see what visible bacteria harbouring offenders fall out, we can bet your bottom dollar things like crumbs, bits of paper, hairs, staples, dead skin and maybe even the odd dead insect will drop out!
  • Mouse – Getting marginally cleaner but still highly unhygienic is the computer mouse with 1,676 bacteria on average per surface.
  • Copy Machine – With frequent and widespread use by different people in the office, just one touch of a button can leave behind around 301 bacteria ready to be picked up by the next user.
  • Men’s Toilet Seat – You’d presume this was up there with the most bacteria per surface? No. The toilet seats in the men’s cubicles carry on average only 49 bacteria per surface – significantly cleaner than most of the items on your desk!

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Using a virus which is harmless to humans but displays the same features as the norovirus, another recent study by Gerba, shows just how quickly potentially very harmful bacteria can spread around the workplace.

So would you believe that after placing the ‘fake’ virus on just a couple of surfaces including a door handle, the bacteria had spread to 40-60% of office surfaces within just 2 – 4 hours? This included light switches, table tops, coffee-pot handles, sink tap handles, doorknobs, and phone and computer equipment. If that were the norovirus, which as we know causes diarrhoea and vomiting, you don’t need to be a microbiologist to work out that potentially that could mean a lot of office workers taking sick leave… A grim discovery indeed!

So not only are our desks and workspaces contaminated with potentially damaging bacteria and viruses, the spread of these viruses is so rapid that it’s almost impossible to contain, unless of course you employ a professional office cleaning service who can advise on these issues.

A daily professional clean will help reduce the spread of bacteria and keep a happier, healthier workplace and workforce.

Watch out for the second part of our blog for more information on how we can reduce the spread of bacteria in the workplace and what happens if we don’t.

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