Tag Archives: office

How germs at the office just got more dangerous

Germs in the office
Yes it all LOOKS reassuring – but we’re not as safe as we think we are

Dangerous? Germs at the office?  Poppycock!

A dose of flu maybe – kid’s stuff.

You’re more likely to have an accident with the photocopier.

Except there ARE germs in the office.

And if you read your papers, you’ll understand why doing something about them suddenly got a lot more serious.

First off is the report about superbugs in our travel network.

Nasties in the Underground

Research by taxi insurers Staveley Head recently turned up 121 different types of bacteria and mould in buses, taxis and in the tube – 9 of them antibiotic resistant.

As Staveley Head’s spectacular website demonstrates, pick one of those up on the way to work, and the Doc’s miracle medicine cure suddenly doesn’t work any more, them bugs have mutated to have immunity.

And pick them up you certainly can – nasties like e.coli, MRSA and klebsiella pneumoniae. Swab tests found them lurking on hand rails, seats, doors and walls – fomites waiting for contact with human hands.

To be carried along to work with all the other hazards we’re exposed to – in the air and on the things we touch. Dust, exhaust fumes, chemicals like acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, toluene and ethyl alcohol, or substances like lead, cadmium and methylene chloride.

We can’t see them of course, they’re microscopically small. But they’re on our clothes and skin and hair. We breathe them in. Ready to transfer to all the things we touch when we get to work. And for when we breathe out. Dangerous germs, unwittingly brought in for our colleagues to catch and succumb to.

And they’re not the only ones. Things are happening in other parts of this sad old world of ours that are equally dangerous to our health.

At war with disease

Like second, war in the Middle East.

Decades of conflict that have devastated whole countries and health systems. And in their wake, epidemics of diseases not seen by doctors for more than half a century. Polio in Syria and cholera in Yemen.

Not our problem, we say to ourselves. Syria is 2,000 miles away, Yemen 3,600.

Except sadly, in this age of direct jet travel, local problems are world problems. Already, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, pouring into Europe or wherever they can get to. And like us tube travellers or the bloke on the No 9 bus, bringing their germs with them.

For every polio victim, how many are carriers? How many are there with the disease incubating inside them as they thankfully emerge on our streets, looking to start a new life?

Meanwhile, in Yemen, cases of cholera have already topped 167,000 and the disease is currently killing one person an hour. How many Yemenis are in Britain, heaving a heavy sigh of relief?

And how many of either have – without meaning to, or even know they’re doing it – transferred their germs to you?

Not directly, but via the grab handle in the back of a taxi, or a rush-hour strap on the Victoria Line – swabbed the worst for germs in the whole London system. Well of course, the Victoria Line runs right through incoming refugee central – King’s Cross & St Pancras AND Victoria.

Unseen, unheard, unrecognised

Worries, yes, And bigger than we think too.

Because third, American reports indicate that antibiotic-resistant superbugs are not as closely tracked in hospitals as they should be. Infection-related deaths are uncounted, greatly hindering the fight against an increasingly global health challenge.

Hopefully, protocols are more strictly adhered to here. But with the NHS in a a state of permanent overload from challenges in all directions, it is likely the same dangers exist in UK too. You peg off with a superbug that your Doc couldn’t treat when you were admitted for something else, who’s going to know?

Which comes back to how safe are you at the office?

And the unpleasant truth, not very. A fact that stems largely from our own hype about standards of hygiene. We think we’re cool.

Reality is way different from what we imagine. For instance:

All of which puts terrific dependence on how well the office itself is cleaned if we want to stay safe.

And the answer is, not very. Not when office cleaning is usually a grudge purchase at the lowest rate. A quick vacuum and wipe-down is min protection against the 10 million germs to be found on the average office desk.

Which, together with the germs we brought in off the street, make the place a lot more dangerous than we confidently kid ourselves it is.

The cost of doing nothing

Once a luxury, it is fast becoming a necessity to do something specifically about office germs. And if bosses won’t do it for staff health, maybe they’ll do it for the sheer economics.

Or “germonomics” if they choose to get serious. The thousands and thousands of pounds that can be saved – just by removing germs that threaten productivity. Push-button technology already in place to make offices sterile, safe and secure.

So how dangerous is YOUR office – because, since it affects us all, this is one of those where you CAN believe all the things you read in the newspaper?

And the answer is very easy.

Does the button get pressed every night, or not?

Who is liable if your office chair breaks? And how about if you get flu?

Questioning girl in chair
Yes, it’s your employer’s responsibility to help you keep healthy and well

Dodgy place the office can be. Your squeaky-wheel chair. Paper cuts. Stabbing yourself with the stapler.

Plenty of misadventure and only yourself to blame.

But how about if the ceiling falls in? You get trapped in the lift? Or your office chair breaks?

How about if it’s major and you get hurt? Have to go to hospital? Or even take time off?

Most employers are pretty sympathetic.

It wasn’t your fault. They’ve got insurance. The landlord has pots of money and it’s all fixed PDQ – no questions, no worries. Everything turns out hunky.

Duty of care

OK, none of these things happen very often – but most bosses accept that if they do, then it’s their responsibility. Part of their duty of care.

Your workplace welfare is their concern, it’s their job to look after you. And Numero Uno on their list of obligations is ensuring a safe work environment.

Some of them take it further and invest in a workplace wellness programme – actively looking to support and promote employee health, safety and wellbeing.

Hold that thought, health.

When you’re out of action, you’re off the grid. Your job doesn’t get done, there is a hole in the fabric at work. It can lose money, it can lose customers. It can lose goodwill and momentum.

Not so bad if you’re off for a few days from the wrench to your ankle when your chair gave way. Your boss is embarrassed and hoping you won’t sue.

Not your fault

But how about being off with the flu?

Not quite the same, is it? Not exactly your fault, but not quite so sympathetic about it either. Silly you, taking chances out in the rain. Yes, so you caught it from somebody on the tube – but you should be more careful.

And then the flu turns out to be MERS – Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. More like pneumonia than flu and people can die from it. And your colleague on the desk next to you just came back from Bahrain.

Company trip or personal, it doesn’t matter. Nobody knew she had it – still in incubation or possibly she is a carrier, catches a mild version and is none the worse for wear.

But not you, you’ve got the lot – fever, coughing AND the diarrhoea. Just from sitting there, doing your job.

Not fair and not right.

Though not even knowing about it, your employer has failed to protect you. Maybe others in your team will also come down with it. Your workplace welfare is compromised and your employer is derelict in duty of care

Derelict?

Care and protection

Oh yes. There’s a whole team of you working together in the same space, normal office bullpen. None of you is the same and probably most of you have some kind of underlying condition – weak chest, heart murmur, IBS, or prone to migraines.

These weaknesses make you vulnerable. If some bug goes around – flu, norovirus, whatever – you’re more likely to get hit. And more likely to get complications.

You need protection FROM EACH OTHER – and as a regular workplace hazard encountered in every business, your employer should provide it.

It’s already necessary too.

One of the highest health hazards of all, ordinary office desks are regularly infested with 10 million of more germs. Escapees from the nightly cleaning crew wipe-down, or long-term lurkers on keyboards, phones, documents, etc – or in the dusty bunnies and detritus behind display screens and control consoles, inaccessible in coils of cabling.

Uh huh. But not the employer’s nightmare it might seem to be.

The premises get cleaned out nightly, right? Vacuumed, wiped down, trash emptied. It might LOOK clean, but the germs are still there – along with others swirling in the air, brought in on the personal auras of you and your colleagues.

Believe it or not, each of us trails a cloud of microscopic bacteria, viruses and body debris – as personal to each of us as a fingerprint or retina scan.

Easy peasy answer

OK, so get rid of the germs too. No germs, no illnesses, no infections. Nobody off work, everybody happy. That massive chunk of absenteeism expense is deleted from the balance sheet.

Unbelievably easy too – with almost no effort.

After everyone’s gone home, a Hypersteriliser gets wheeled in – a kind of dinky, wheelie-bin-sized anti-germ console. Hit the button and the place gets misted up with an ultra-fine super-dry mist of non-toxic, ionised hydrogen peroxide – the same natural germ-killer our own bodies make for ourselves.

The mist is electrostatically charged, which does two things.

First, every single particle tries to get away from itself, like magnets with the same polarity, pushing each other away. This forces the mist to power-disperse in all directions – hard up against all surfaces, walls and ceilings, deep into cracks and crevices, and clutching hard at every single coil of wire.

Second, the negative charge of the peroxide is actively attracted to the positive charge of bacteria and viruses. It vigorously reaches out and grabs at them as it spreads – again like a magnet, snatching at them like iron filings – out of nowhere, out of everywhere – clinging to them and oxidising them to nothing.

Forty minutes later, they’re all gone – the whole place is completely sterile. No MERS, no nothing to threaten anybody. Everybody safe.

Now go tell your boss.

If she knew it was that easy, she’d fall off HER chair.

Picture Copyright: cherezoff / 123RF Stock Photo

Why washing hands at the office is never enough

Fingers on keys
As fast as you wash germs off your hands, the things on your desk put them back

Wowee, lookit!

Hands immaculate, fresh scrubbed with soap and water.

No germs gonna get you, right?

Wrong.

The germ comeback

Because what’s the first thing you do when you get back to your desk?

Put your hands on the keyboard – lots to do, got to get on.

Except when was the last time your keyboard got scrubbed?

Probably never, no?

Oh dear.

Because if you’re like most people, you probably eat at your desk – like 74% of women and 64% of men. Driven by the work ethic, concern for job security, or determined not to go out because it means spending money.

Whatever. Eat at your desk and what’s the bet it’s mostly convenience food ? Sandwich, pizza, burger, fish and chips. Easy to eat with your fingers, good junk food to stoke up the furnace.

Uh huh.

Which means greasy fingers all over the keys.

What! You don’t touch your computer while you’re eating? Yeah, yeah – we gotcha, and you know it.

Or more accurately, you got yourself.

Same again, Sam

Touch that keyboard with your pristine clean fingers – and you’re right back where you started. Contaminated again with whatever is lurking there – pneumonia, diarrhoea, influenza – none of the possibilities is good.

So what are you going to do, clean your keyboard every time you eat too?

As if. The easiest way is with pre-moistened antiseptic wipes and a knife. Around twenty minutes, last time we checked. Oh – and you ought to turn your computer off as well. Don’t want things going bang with all that moisture – or frying your hard drive.

Mm, so it isn’t going to happen, is it? Too much PT.

And it’s not just your keyboard. It’s your whole desk. And your phone. The input panel on the photocopier. The lift buttons. All the things that you touch, that other people touch, that have germs from greasy fingers and whatever they brought in from outside.

Well done you, for washing your hands – but you’re still up a gum tree.

Looks clean but isn’t

Because let’s say Facilities Management have the cleaners in every night to look after the place. It’s just keeping up appearances, right? Anything, so long as the place LOOKS clean. So the carpets get done and the bins emptied.

Maybe the desks wiped too. Impressive microfibre cloth, yes – but the same one every time. So the germs from one desk get transferred to another – till all desks are contaminated to the same level. And boy, we mean contaminated – like with 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat.

Hmm, so even though you washed your hands, you’re doomed to get a bug? Flu, e.coli, norovirus? Whatever’s doing the rounds?

OK, suppose we told you, you could get away without sitting there like a guava, wiping down your keyboard every five minutes – just to keep yourself safe? That once you’d washed your hands, you could go to your keyboard, with little or no chance of winding up in hospital?

Yeah, but…

Oh sure, it’s like that now, you say. You’ve been there five years and ain’t caught nothing yet.

Really? Sure those aren’t porkies? Doesn’t everyone get flu every winter? An don’t you always have the sniffles, just as much as everyone else?

Yeah, we hear you. And suppose we could take the sniffles away too – so they don’t happen any more in your office? Not counting of course the mad weekends freezing in the stands, while your team crashes out of the league 2-nil?

You’re still gonna have to wipe off the greasy finger marks – but making the germs go away is easy-peasy. Tell the Facilities Management people get a Hypersteriliser.

Never heard of it?

You will.

There’s a lot of worried doctors right now, tearing their hair out because we’ve OD’d on antibiotics over the last 50 years – and now they’re not working because the bugs are immune.

Which means either get rid of germs BEFORE any of them can get to you – or take your chances in hospital AFTER they’ve struck, knowing the miracle drugs can’t save you any more.

Which is what a Hypersteriliser does – take out ALL the virus and bacteria in your workspace. Make the place sterile, so you’re safe.

Press button simple

Like we said, easy-peasy.

Press a button and the thing mists the place up with an ultra-fine spray of ionised hydrogen peroxide. The ionising is crucial because it creates a kind of super-gas – electrically charged to disperse actively in all directions at one – attracting germs like a magnet, annihilating them to nothing.

But wait a minute, aren’t some bacteria beneficial? Isn’t getting rid of them destructive?

Two things.

With most bacteria so small there’s billions and billions of them in every square inch, you can’t exactly ask them “are you nice?” or “are you nasty?” and still have time for a life.

More significantly, everybody’s different. You might be OK yourself, but most of us have an underlying condition of some kind – asthma, a weak tummy, prone to headaches – all kinds of things.

You and other people

So while you’re untouched, the same bug takes out your colleague – and every illness can have complications. Norovirus, for instance, can lead to dehydration. Which can mean hospital and all kinds of problems. 800 of us die from it, every year.

And, wouldn’t you guess? There’s no medicine for norovirus – just like there’s no medicine that’s sure to clobber flu. Yeah, there’s a vaccine – prepared for this year’s strain. But the germs mutate so fast, it’s a guessing game to get it right.

More medicine that doesn’t work. More reasons to stay out of hospital – the medics are battling to find ways to make you well.

Better to never get sick in the first place. By washing your hands. By avoiding the contamination loop and keeping your workplace sterile.

Enough is enough – and most of us are sick of coming down with bugs

Delete all germs, Y/N? Or send to cloud?

Woman at keyboard
Ew! Delete all germs! There’s more on your keyboard than there are in the loo!

OK, they got you.

You read a piece in the paper about germs on your desk and scared yourself to death.

Then you took a look at your computer keyboard and called your office cleaning service.

Yes, they do sanitising of IT equipment, including screens and keyboards. Oh, and don’t you want your phones done too? Staff are on the line all the time and need protection.

A big cleaning job

You look at them, at their workstations – in those space-maximising groups of four, clustered together. Lots of work to be done, everyone with double screens, always on the go.

Good on you, you’ve earned a coffee – and the specialist team is coming tomorrow. Delete all germs, yeah!

Wow, but they are impressive. Air blasters that squidge out dust and dirt – all those bits of biscuit that dropped down between the keys. And this virucidal liquid stuff that lifts the gunge of your keys so they look like new when you thought the letters were fading. Oh, and the wipes for screen, yeah!

Twenty minutes, all done.

You watch as the team goes round the rest of the office. Everyone’s raving at their shiny new-look keyboards. You nod to yourself.

It’s not over till it’s over

Then you notice something on the desk behind your screen. A dust bunny. No worries, the usual cleaning team will take care of that when they come in this evening.

Or not.

Difficult to get to, behind all those screens clustered together. Worried about unplugging something too. So their best is thrust with a feather duster, or a quick go-round with the vacuum cleaner hose.

Delete all germs? Well, only sort of.

Cough, cough, splutter.

Dust bunnies in the air – bits of biscuit from the blow-out sessions too.

So just how clean is your office really?

Sure it looks OK, but how safe is it from germs?

You sit there and think about what could be under the desk. Lurking in the cables snarled together where the CPUs are. No vacuuming there either – don’t want to disturb the connections.

Behind the scenes

And what about behind the photo copier? Or the great triple-whammy broadband server up against the pillar? Won’t the air-con circulate all those dust bunnies and biscuit bits? Plus the cough-sneezes from you and everybody else?

It’s not just your desk that’s full of germs – it’s the whole office. (Tweet this)

But if somebody was going to clean and disinfect that lot properly, they’d be wiping and scrubbing all day. And still the air-con would be circulating stuff – round and round in a great invisible cloud.

Aargh!

Surely there’s something that can handle taking the germs out without making it a major mission, or ponging the place up with chlorine bleach?

Fortunately, there is.

Safe from germs

It’s called a Hypersteriliser and it sterilises the whole place completely – no germs no nothing, safe.

You still need the cleaning team, because the machine doesn’t actually clean off dirt.

What it does do is mist the place up with ionised hydrogen peroxide – oxidising viruses and bacteria on contact like microscopic explosions, physically ripping their cells apart.

The stuff gets everywhere too, because the ionising charges the mist particles so they race away, trying to escape each other. Charged with energy, they push and shove – under, behind and deep into any cracks – no germ can escape them.

Forty minutes is all it needs – give or take an oz, depending on room size.

Delete all germs, yes! And way quicker than a whole team of cleaners could ever achieve. (Tweet this)

And all you do is wheel it into place, check it’s juiced up and ready to go, hit the button and get out of there – job done.

So, are you going to accept just the clean keyboard – or do want to hit the whole place?

Breathe deep and think. Your colleagues are depending on this too.

Like, if you don’t do anything, how many more sickies are you going to pull this year?