Ever worried about public toilets being a breeding ground for germs? Well, here’s a shocker – even more bugs and bacteria are running rampant in your office!
I have a beautiful and highly intelligent friend by the name of Vanessa, who is completely paranoid about public surfaces. From a very young age, she was taught that public surfaces – lift buttons, railings and the like – were streng verboten (strictly forbidden) because they are rife with germs.
This belief came to the fore when she lived in London for a while; she refused to touch public surfaces on the underground, of course, which meant she could not cling onto anything. Shame, the poor dear fell flat on her face time and time again when the train took off or ground to a halt. She never disobeyed her mom’s orders though – hence she was permanently covered in bruises and caused much hilarity on the underground.
Now I wonder what Vanessa would think of a survey which has just been released in the USA: the findings reveal that if we don’t want to fall foul to some dreaded disease, we should all step away from the office!
You can read more about the study on page 30 of this issue of SHEQ MANAGEMENT, where Jaco de Klerk tackles the subject in greater detail. For now, I can tell you that it was one of the most comprehensive ever conducted into germ-ridden workplace hotspots.
Hygienists collected approximately 5 000 individual swabs from office buildings housing more than 3 000 employees. Scientists then used Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) – a measurement of a living cell’s source of energy – to measure the biological concentration of bacteria on a number of surfaces. They found lots of places where the ATP count was excessive (rated 300 or higher).
Taps were particularly deviant, with 75 percent yielding an ATP count of above 300. Other “baddies” with scores of over 300 included microwave door handles (48 percent of those tested), keyboards (27 percent), fridge door handles (26 percent), water fountain buttons (23 percent) and vending machine buttons (21 percent).
In addition, half of all computer mice and desk phones were found to have ATP levels above 100, suggesting that while people appear to be taking more responsibility for the cleanliness of their personal spaces, there is still a need for increased awareness of the importance of hand and surface hygiene in the office.
But the survey was conducted in the USA: it is relevant to South African offices? Apparently it is. Local office environments were subjected to similar tests, which revealed that South African office workers are regularly exposed to illness-causing bacteria in their own workspaces. People are aware of the risk of germs in the restroom, but areas like break rooms haven’t received the same level of attention. This study demonstrates that contamination can be spread throughout the workplace when office workers heat up lunch, make coffee or simply type on their keyboards. It’s a scary realisation.
So what’s the solution? As you can read in our report on page 30, three simple steps are all it takes. Nobody will ever be able to avoid contamination entirely, of course – but with greater awareness and by adopting a few simple habits, a lot of cases colds, flu and stomach illness can easily be avoided. And there’s the peace-of-mind aspect too. I’m sure Vanessa would thoroughly approve …