Thanks to the pandemic spread of Swine Flu, we’re dealing with an especially scary flu season at home and at work. While we’re all familiar with the basics of how to reduce our risks of exposure to germs that lead to getting sick, there are still plenty of things we can do to help make our environments and ourselves more safe. Perhaps this information can help you develop battle plans to combat all of the germs that assault us at home and at the workplace.
Soap and Water
Let’s begin with the basics that we know about but few of us actually do correctly or even at all. The most important thing being washing our hands as often and as thoroughly as possible. According to the CDC, Hands should be scrubbed together with soap for at least 20 seconds (the CDC recommended minimum) under warm water (New studies show that cold water is just as affective as hot water so warm is fine). It sounds basic, but many people just rinse with water or wash their fingertips instead of the whole hand, which doesn’t get the l job done when it comes to removing germs. Here’s an excellent resource from the CDC called “Hand Hygiene Saves Lives” which includes video demonstration and tutorial material.
Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, counted bacteria on workplace surfaces for a study sponsored by The Clorox Co., makers of Clorox bleach. The results were shocking, to say the least. Office toilet seats had 49 germs per square inch, he found. But desktops had almost 21,000 germs per square inch. Phones were worse — more than 25,000 germs per square inch! Yes, you read that correctly. Our desks, computer keyboards, mice and phones are much dirtier than toilet seats!
This should only emphasize the extreme importance of hand washing (for more than 20 seconds with warm soapy water) as well as using alcohol-based antibacterial solutions such as hand wipes and gels. While there have been some debate over the level of benefits of antibacterial soaps, there hasn’t been as much disagreement on the values of alcohol-based antibacterial solutions. The CDC recommends hand washing as primary method of prevention and alcohol-based antibacterial wipes and gels as a secondary solution when you can’t wash your hands for some reason.
Quick tip: Another common mistake most of us make after washing our hands in a restroom is touching the door handle while exiting. Even those few that take the time to wash their hands for more than 20 seconds in warm soapy water recontaminate their hands by touching this highly infected area. The best thing to do is use a paper towel to open the door. Some workplaces are placing trash cans near the door for proper disposal of these paper towels.
8-Hour Protection: The downside to washing hands and the antibacterial methods is that they only provide a few seconds worth of protection. The moment you touch something that is contaminated, then so are you. Well, there’s a new antibacterial solution that claims to provide 8 hours of protection against germs. One of the better known offerings is called SkinWear which states it is an FDA approved, safe and natural way to protect yourself for 8 hours against 99.9 % of germs.
Note: Also, any employees whose job descriptions require them to touch other employee’s computer equipment such as members of IT, should also be required to use antibacterial wipes or gels before and after touching anyone’s equipment. The same goes for all other office equipment such as phones, typewriters, etc.
water coolers vs water fountains
Another recent study conducted on the Food Network’s “Food Detectives” Ã‚Â revealed some shocking results involving common every day office fixtures such as the office water cooler and water fountains.While not as exhaustive as a clinical study, the tests they conducted revealed that the number of germs found on water coolers where were tremendously higher than the number found on public and private water fountains.
One explanation involved the benefits of water fountain’s angel of trajectory which prevents germs from contaminating the spout. Conversely, the vertical alignment of the water cooler’s spout makes it susceptible to easy contamination by people’s hands and used cups and water bottles.
So what’s the answer? Drinking from water fountains and refilling your bottle there? I’m afraid not as doing so would contaminate the water fountain spout the same way it does for the water cooler. Yes, washing your mug or water bottle and the spouts before each use would help matter greatly, but let’s face it, most people will not take the time or make the effort. So, perhaps its safest to just bring in your own bottle water and avoid refilling for everyone’s health sake.
Weapons of Choice Against Catching or Spreading Germs
Here’s a simple checklist of what you can do in your fight against these microscopic enemies.
- Wash your hands as often as possible for at least 20 seconds in warm, soapy water
- If you can’t wash your hands then use alcohol-based antibacterial wipes or gels (Try to keep a portable container with you no matter where you, especially when traveling).
- Resist touching your eyes and mouth as much as possible throughout the day
- Never sneeze into the open air, even if you think you’re alone in an area. Sneeze into your arm if you do not have a tissue available.
- Stay home at least 24 hours after your fever breaks. Returning to work too soon can infect many other employees. The same is true for not taking a sick day early enough.