As any personal injury attorney can attest, our environments can have hidden dangers like slippery floors and loose steps. But right where you thought you were safe—sitting comfortably in your office chair, typing away at your computer, danger looms. We’re talking about ubiquitous viruses and bacteria, of course! And unlike more obvious dangers, slip and fall attorneys can’t help you out when it comes to getting sick.
That’s why it’s important to be armed with the knowledge you need for your immune system to stay in tip-top shape while coworkers cough and sneeze all around you.
Germs, Bacteria, Viruses, Oh My!
Germs and bacteria are ever-present in any environment but seem to find special solace in offices thanks to the close contact with individuals and wealth of flat surfaces. In the average office environment, cubicles and personal workstations tend to have higher bacteria levels than common areas (break rooms, kitchens, etc.). The average office worker’s desk and keyboard tend to have a high germ count, but the most germ-friendly item in any cubicle is the phone, which makes sense considering it is a direct target of your open mouth and is very rarely cleaned or disinfected.
However, every office is different. Coffee mugs and glasses, for instance, tend to have bacteria numbering in the thousands, but everyday dish cleaning can dramatically reduce that number to single digits. Similarly, toilet seats tend to have the lowest number of bacteria, but improper or irregular cleaning may mean you’re sitting down on an army of germs every time you go to the bathroom.
Some of these differences depend on occupation. Dr. Charles P. Gerba, a microbiologist, found that surfaces used by school teachers tend to have the most bacteria due to their interaction with kids. The offices of medical attorneys and other lawyers, consultants, and publicists have the lowest number of bacteria per square inch.
Keep your desk area as clean as possible, even if you have a cleaning staff that comes in each night. Wipe your desk, keyboard, mouse, and telephone mouthpiece with disinfecting wipes at least once a week. If your office has a telephone used by everyone or several officemates, clean it with an antibacterial wipe every morning. Clear away any clutter, which gives germs more surface area to live.
Washing your hands frequently is the best way to prevent contamination. Touching anything leads to a transfer of bacteria, so it makes sense to wash your hands before you ingest something, especially if you’ve been shaking hands, using the copy machine, and making calls all day. If you can’t get to a sink to wash your hands, keep a hand sanitizer on your desk and use it throughout the day.
The wonders of climate control are great but force us to rely on heavily circulated air. The heater/air conditioner actually circulates airborne germs around the office faster than they would spread by normal human contact. If your office has windows, keep them open or at least air the office out for a few minutes each day around noon. Let in that fresh air to replace the gross, bacteria-filled air in the office.
If you are prone to eating at your desk regularly, you may want to start changing your habits. Food gets contaminated very easily, and dripping food onto your desk—even the smallest of crumbs—acts as an invitation to bacteria.
Above all, if you do get sick, don’t try to power through to get to work. Stay at home, rest, and recuperate. Heading into work with the flu won’t do you or your coworkers any good.