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A day in the office can be bad for your health!

Delivering excellence for a cleaner brighter world.

Many of us in the past may have had the rare thought about how clean our work areas actually are before the kettle finishes boiling and we’re off to make another round. However this thought actually stuck with marketing manager Ruud Linders of Viking; an international office supplies company and here’s what he found:

Vast amounts of time is lost each year due to illness absence – reportedly 131 million days’ worth of work were lost due to sickness alone in 2013. Whilst many of these illnesses are quite unavoidable, it’s fair to say that diligent hygiene routines can curtail the spread of many.

The nature of many offices - close quartered, stuffy and regularly populated - make them ideal breeding grounds for contagions, and it doesn’t take long for an infectious illness to spread.

In the light of this we wanted to take a look at some of the micro-organisms living on the surfaces we regularly come into contact with in the office. We also wanted to see what difference cleaning these items would have. The results, whilst disgusting weren’t actually surprising!

Ruud Linders

With the help of a technology college, we procured some ‘agar plates’ which are basically petri dishes filled with bacteria food. We then set about deciding where to take samples from around the office, coming up with this list:

  • Hot water boiler
  • Photocopier
  • Keyboard
  • Desk surface
  • Computer mouse (cleansed with desk wipes)
  • Main corridor door handle
  • Telephone mouthpiece
  • Chewed pencil
  • Chewed pen

To take the samples, we sterilised some cotton buds with isopropyl alcohol and then, once dry, we rubbed them over the test surface. The swab was then rubbed lightly in a zig-zag pattern on the surface of the agar. With the lids quickly replaced, labelled and taped, the agar plates were left in a warm room for five days. Upon opening the box after the incubation period, we were both revolted and fascinated.

After analysing the plates, the Viking team came to the conclusion that helped rethink the way we clean our office and the way we think about the objects around us.

The first conclusion was that even though we thought some items were cleaned regularly, actually harboured a substantial amount of organisms on them. This made us decide to become much more diligent with our cleaning routines and make an effort to wipe down our workstations at least every other day.

Our Second conclusion was that some of the items probably weren’t cleaned that much at all. The main culprit here was the photocopier, which showed some of the worst and most varied looking results. We deduced that the photocopier wasn’t actually assigned to anyone to clean and so rarely got a once-over. This certainly highlighted how important it is to regularly clean items used frequently and by lots of people. This would go a long way to avoiding these areas becoming points of contagion and spreading the office illness around as, according to the NHS, some viruses can live several weeks on hard surfaces.

In the end, proof that keeping equipment clean can keep the nasties at bay and prevent the spread of illness came from two samples taken from the same computer mouse. We took one sample from a workers uncleaned mouse and one from the same mouse after it had been cleaned down. The results of this comparison test were clear: the sample taken from the uncleaned mouse showed large amounts of microbial growth but once the mouse had been cleaned with a generic desk wipe it showed nominal growth.

The samples taken from the uncleaned and cleaned mouse.

One thing to keep in mind however is that most of the germs that contributed to the microbial growths were constantly present on much of the equipment and surfaces we touch every day. These microbes are unlikely to make you ill in the concentrations you’ll usually find them, but the experiment itself is a good exercise in understanding how a contagious illness could be transmitted through people touching the same surfaces.

It’s always important to exercise a diligent and thorough hygiene routine, especially in an environment like an office where the close confines and communal nature of much of the work space makes it very easy to transmit contagions.

As disgustingly fascinating as this report is, it shows the importance of keeping your office and workings areas clean!
Published on: 07/10/2016



Aislinn O'Toole
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