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Top 5 Germiest Places in the Workplace
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American adults spend more of their waking hours between Monday and Friday at the workplace than anywhere else -— including home, according to the 2009 American Time User Survey (U.S. Department of Labor, June 22, 2010). About one-third of all workers also devote five hours, on average, at the workplace on weekends, as well. So it stands to reason that offices, factories, clinics, and other work facilities have become places to exchange not only goods and services, but also viruses, bacteria, and other sources of infection.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates between 5 and 20 percent of all Americans contract flu annually. Up to 80 percent of all infections are spread through our environment by hand contact with contaminated surfaces, as well as through direct human contact. Adults put their hands to their faces an average of 18.5 times per hour, presenting hundreds of opportunities each day to transfer illness causing organisms into our bodies. Once an infection takes hold, the next step is usually the doctor's office, followed by the sickbed -— providing thousands to millions of dollars in lost productivity due to employee absenteeism. In fact, according to a National Health Interview Survey, influenza alone is responsible for 200 million days of diminished productivity and 75 million days of work absence.
Fortunately, knowing what surfaces provide the greatest risk for disease transmission at work allows us to put a proactive plan in place to implement effective cleaning practices, which can help reduce these risks and minimize infections. Ultimately, employees must be educated on what precautions to take to help avoid the top germiest places in their workplace:
- Telephones. In many workplaces, telephones are still used by multiple employees. Office phones can harbor more than 25,000 germs per square inch. Users should be instructed to wipe off handsets and keypads with sanitizing wipes after using them and periodically throughout the day.
- Elevator buttons. Scores, if not hundreds, of people use elevators every day, many times before they have a chance to get to their workstations or wash their hands. Avoid direct contact with elevator surfaces if you can. Consider using your elbow rather than your hand to push the buttons. (Want to guess the number one place in the elevator for harboring bacteria and germs? It's the "one," or first floor, button.)
- Water fountains. Public drinking fountains can harbor as many as 2.7 million bacteria per square inch on the spigot. As an alternative, bring water from home in a sports bottle or buy bottled water during the worst flu outbreaks.
- Keyboards. As with telephones, PC keyboards are often used by more than one person, making their use a common way to transfer germs. In fact, keyboards can actually have more than 200 times as many bacteria as a toilet seat.
- Bathrooms. Tagged as the "epicenter of cross-contamination" and the "bio-hazardous waste transfer station," facility bathrooms are one of the germiest places of all. E. coli and other fecal toxins are often found on nearly every surface; folks who wash their hands before leaving are nonetheless presented with germy door handles. As a solution, use paper towels to turn faucets off and on, to close the toilet lid before flushing, and to open the door before exiting.
To clean effectively to kill and remove germs and soil, consider a shift to a nightly health-focused, hygienic cleaning system. Health-focused, hygienic cleaning is proven to reduce health risks through the prudent use of hospital-grade disinfectants to kill harmful organisms and includes advanced soil removal techniques to capture and remove dirt and germs. Studies have shown that employing an effective surface disinfecting and cleaning protocol can reduce absenteeism as much as 50 percent. Combining this method of cleaning with an aggressive hand hygiene program provides a hygienic barrier to help reduce the risk of illness and improve the quality of work life for all building occupants.
The inclusion of EPA-registered, hospital-grade disinfectants in your cleaning compounds help reduce the overall risk of illness by killing harmful organisms on surfaces in your facility. Their prudent use, especially in the germiest areas mentioned above, is a critical component to an effective, daily, hygienic cleaning system. Not only should disinfectants be used during nightly cleaning, but also employees should be provided with disinfectant disposable wipes to periodically wipe down high-touch points throughout the day.
The introduction of backpack vacuums with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filtration is another component of hygienic cleaning that can help to reduce airborne germs and improve overall indoor air quality. The backpack platform provides an increase in productivity of 70 percent when compared to traditional push vacuums. The HEPA filters the air to .3 microns, ensuring harmful germs are not blown out of the exhaust back into the air.
Another key component to an effective hygienic cleaning system is the use of microfiber textiles in cleaning cloths instead of cotton or other fabrics or disposable paper. Most cloths and rags don't effectively remove soil and germs; they actually spread them around and contribute to cross-contamination. Microfiber, by contrast, is a very fine, round synthetic fiber that is chemically treated to split the individual round strands into open, star-shaped channels. These channels have been proven to be 99 percent more effective at capturing and removing bacteria and soils.
When using microfiber cloths, it's essential that workers turn and change cloths often to ensure that their germ and soil removal capabilities are not reduced. Also, cloths should be color coded; each color should be devoted to a single, designated area of the workplace to prevent cross-contamination.
Finally, empower employees with the proper information and tools to protect themselves. Use flyers, e-mails, and meetings to remind employees about the need to help to minimize m transmission through effective hand hygiene. Stress effective handwashing and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and keep sanitizing stations visible and well stocked. By combining effective hygienic cleaning and worker hand care education, you will reduce health risks and improve your chances of weathering the cold and flu season with a minimal loss of manpower.
Peter J. Sheldon Sr., CBSE, brings more than 20 years of experience in the Building Services Contracting industry to his position as vice president of Operations of Coverall Health-Based Cleaning System(r). Sheldon works closely with the Coverall sales and operations teams to spearhead initiatives that further the company's strategic objectives and help the company develop the most efficient and innovative cleaning processes available.