The results of a recent study to determine which office surfaces carry the highest concentration of germs may surprise you.
It’s not your keyboard or the office restroom that tops the list of germ “hot spots,” it’s where you enjoy a quick snack or warm up your lunch. Yes, the breakroom and kitchen--specifically the sink and microwave door handles were found to be the dirtiest surfaces touched by office workers on a daily basis.
The study, conducted by Kimberly-Clark Professional as part of The Healthy Workplace Project collected nearly 5,000 individual swabs from office buildings housing more than 3,000 employees. The sites represented a broad cross-section of office types including manufacturing facilities, law firms, insurance companies, healthcare companies and call centers.
The percentage of office surfaces with high levels of contamination includes:
- 75 percent of break room sink faucet handles
- 48 percent of microwave door handles
- 27 percent of keyboards
- 26 percent of refrigerator door handles
- 23 percent of water fountain buttons
- 21 percent of vending machine buttons
In addition, half of all computer mice and desk phones had low to moderate levels of contamination.
“People are aware of the risk of germs in the restroom, but areas like break rooms have not received the same degree of attention,” said Dr. Gerba, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Arizona and a consultant on the study.
Another surprising factoid uncovered in an earlier study conducted by Dr. Gerba, was that bacteria levels in women’s offices were nearly three times higher than in men’s offices. Even though the study found that women’s offices looked cleaner, the accumulation of personal items — from makeup bags and pictures to purses on their desks — resulted in more germs.
Cleaning Up Our Act
While many offices use contract cleaning services to disinfect office common areas regularly, kitchens and personal work spaces can become instantly re-contaminated.
The American Cleaning Institute offers these tips to help stop the spread of germs:
- Clean your hands as soon as you walk into the office. Walk straight into the bathroom and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Rinse and repeat several times a day, including before and after lunch and after using the bathroom. If you’re a bus or train commuter, carry a hand sanitizer and use it, particularly before your grab your first cup of coffee.
- As for your desk, keep a surface cleaner, disinfecting spray or wipes within reach, and use them on your desktop and telephone — the two things you touch most throughout your day. While you’re at it, take a swipe at your office doorknob, light switch or other surfaces you commonly touch.
- When it comes to cleaning your computer, make sure it’s turned off before beginning. Don’t spray cleaner directly onto any part of it, but rather spray on a cloth first. If there’s dirt and dust in between keys on your keyboard, turn it upside down and gently shake or use an air duster. Use a microfiber cloth — either dry or dampened with a specially formulated cleaner for computer screens — when cleaning your monitor. Also, don’t forget to clean your mouse.
While no one can (or should) avoid germs entirely, regular hand washing and office cleaning can reduce the rates of cold, flu and stomach illness by up to 80 percent.