With many office workers succumbing to workload, peer or management pressure and deciding to either skip lunch in favour of snacks in packets and crunch bars, or (time permitting) to open their sandwich box at their desk, offices are becoming more and more unhygienic. This, of course, leads to potential illness and lost productivity or sick leave. Recent research has highlighted a number of invisible yet highly significant bacterial hotspots in our seemingly benign places of work.
Among some of the highest bacterial counts were computer input devices such as the ostensibly trustworthy mouse and keyboard, according to laboratory investigation and culture colonies examined under a microscope. In fact, the report mentioned ‘the filthiest part of workers’ desks’ and ‘contamination’, comparing typical bacterial levels to three times that which might typically be found on an average toilet seat.
The hygiene specialists competed tests on over 40 different workstations and 150 items in several offices. It was found that many desks were cleaned only at woefully inadequate and sporadic intervals – if that. Filing cabinet handles and telephones lacked proper cleaning, while chair armrests were also found to be dirty, Other bacteria came from office pot plants, water fountain or cooler buttons and vending machine levers. These were among the dirtiest places, seldom sanitised and in the same league as fridge and microwave door handles in the staff kitchen.
Hundreds of strains of bacteria were found, including those from the human nose, mouth and intestines and attributed to sneezing, coughing, skin surfaces and the mucous membranes. Surfing the Internet and typing while eating were found not to help – doing this left morsels of food over the workstation, especially on input devices. Microorganisms then gleefully multiplied in favourably moist and warm office conditions.
In addition to professional cleaning services, some suggestions to improve hygiene include clearing desks at least once a week so that they can be cleaned properly, having one’s own cup or mug and water bottle as well as taking lunch breaks away from the desk.