Beware the keyboard creepy crawlies

Beware the keyboard creepy crawlies

Studies have revealed that the average desk has 400 times more germs than a toilet seat … so we really need to take those truths we learnt as kids, such as “Wash your hands before you eat”, to heart. Gear up for the battle against germs in all those elegant clean-looking offices …

Childhood – a magical carefree time without bills or responsibilities, and only a few rules here and there, such as washing your hands regularly to combat germs.

However, Nthato Malope, end-user manager at Kimberly-Clark Professional South Africa, has some shock statistics for us: apparently only 75 percent of men wash their hands after using the bathroom, meaning that you might not want to shake hands with 25 percent of the men you interact with at work. That’s one man in every four.

As alarming as this is, it isn’t nearly as shocking as the findings of a recent scientific study proving that everyday office equipment items harbour more germs than the average toilet seat! This was determined using Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), a measurement of living cells’ source of energy, which enables scientists to measure the biological concentration of bacteria on any given surface. The ATP revealed that the average desk has 400 times more germs than a regular “throne”.

Taking this into consideration, it won’t be a surprise to learn that the cost of absenteeism on the South African economy is estimated to reach R19 billion a year, with the average company having 4,5 percent of its employees not attending work on a daily basis. “The financial impact of illness, both through absence and working while sick, adds up to serious losses for employers,” says Malope.

To address this, Kimberly-Clark Professional South Africa has launched its Healthy Workplace Project, which has already achieved great success internationally. The project involves showing employers how taking a few simple steps can help reduce the spread of harmful germs within the office environment, thereby contributing to lower absenteeism and higher productivity.

Kimberly-Clark US discovered, after collecting 5 000 individual swabs, that office kitchens and break rooms harbour considerably more germs than restrooms. This nationwide mission follows a simple wash, wipe and sanitise protocol to enhance workplace hygiene and reduce cross-contamination of germs in typical office hotspots such as desks, boardrooms, reception areas and kitchens. “In creating a healthy workplace, employers should encourage and make available proper hand hygiene solutions in the areas where employees actually work,” emphasises Malope.

The company can help with this as it is a subsidiary of the US-based Kimberly-Clark Corporation, which employs more than 57 000 staff members and sells various brands in more than 175 countries worldwide,  including Kleenex, Huggies, Baby Soft and Carlton.

Malope stresses that the Healthy Workplace Project can help employers to get more bang for their buck by enabling them to purchase appropriate hygiene products for their employees.

This is surely needed if we look at another study carried out by Kimberly- Clark in the US which revealed that office kitchens and break rooms harbour considerably more germs than restrooms.

Through the use of ATP, it was found that these places where employees eat and prepare their lunch topped the list of office germ hotspots – with microwave door handles being the dirtiest surfaces touched by workers.

“Hygienists collected approximately 5 000 individual swabs from office buildings housing more than 3 000 employees,” explains Malope. “The participating office buildings represented a broad cross-section of office types, including manufacturing facilities, law firms, insurance companies, healthcare companies and call centres.”

He points out that Kimberly-Clark SA showed that local office environments are similar to those of the United States. “People are aware of the risk of germs in the restroom, but areas like break rooms have not received the same degree of attention,” says Malope. “The studies demonstrate that contamination can be spread throughout the workplace when workers heat up lunch, make coffee or simply type on their keyboards.”

The flu season also plays its part in employee absenteeism, spreading viruses throughout offices and contributing to up to 40 percent of all cases where people are absent from work during the year. Malope says the workplace is the ideal breeding ground for the flu virus – especially in open-plan office environments where people work in close proximity to one another for long periods of time.

The flu, or rather influenza, is typically transmitted through the air by coughs or sneezes, although the virus can also be transmitted through direct contact with contaminated surfaces.

“Unfortunately, many people don’t know that the flu virus can live on any surface a sick person touches for up to 48 hours,” says Malope. “One person’s flu-infected hand can infect up to seven clean surfaces, which significantly increases the odds of more people being exposed to the resultant cross-contamination from the original surface.”

He stresses that the high number of germs and the spreading of flu viruses in offices can however be averted by simple solutions such as placing sanitising wipes in kitchens, and providing employees with easy access to hand sanitisers. 

“The studies demonstrate that contamination can take place across the workplace, and has the potential to reach people where they eat and prepare food,” says Malope. “Nobody can avoid it entirely, but by washing, wiping and sanitising, employees can reduce their rates of colds, flu and stomach illness by up to 80 percent.”

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