Here’s a dirty secret about office hygiene according to WebMD: over 10 million germs exist on an office desk, increasing your health risk. It also claims this is 400 times more than the average toilet seat. For small business owners who work in a crowded, self-contained office, office hygiene is so important. Since many modern workstations are open plan with minimal barriers, this becomes even more worrying.
As countries around the world cautiously tiptoe towards a post-pandemic world, offices are also welcoming employees and clients back into the workplace. With everyone breathing the same air and touching the same surfaces, how can businesses reduce health risks for employees to stay safe? Read on for our top tips.
Top 3 health risks at workspace
Since the office is a space where we assume users will stay clean in consideration of others, it might not be easy to spot the health risks. Here are 3 areas that you might miss:
1. The Staff Pantry
It’s not just gossip that spreads in the staff pantry. An untidy kitchen full of unwashed dishes and utensils is a perfect party setting for bacteria and germs. Since this is the place where employees gather for breaks, the high frequency of touchpoints would mean that contagious illnesses can spread quickly, even if office hygiene is good elsewhere.
Add the possibility of worn-out cleaning sponges not changed for months, forgotten yogurt left sitting in the refrigerator, and a lack of care for the kitchen, and you have a health disaster waiting to happen.
2. Dirty workstations
It is not a simple task ensuring everyone maintains an adequate level of office hygiene. But we all need to realise that our personal equipment can be really, really dirty and pose a huge health risk.
Take the keyboard and mouse as an example. Dust, dirt, and grime can get stuck in them. Especially so if you eat in front of your computer, and crumbs get within the keys. There is a common bacterium on keyboards that causes stomach upsets, affectionately known as “qwerty tummy”. There isn’t anything affection about this though - research states that keyboards can be four times dirtier than toilet seats, even worse when shared. Now imagine touching these keys, and the mouse, then your face during the day.
3. Chemical Hazards
If you identify as the overzealous office manager trying to maintain high standards of office hygiene, you might have gone overboard buying cleaning products. It makes sense - with germs on every surface, we should clean more.
But chemicals in some cleaning products are health risks on their own. Some chemicals are irritating to the skin and when left on frequently touched surfaces, can harm your employees. Gases from cleaning chemicals can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. Chemicals in some products can trigger asthma attacks. Some even contain hazardous chemicals that enter through skin contact or from breathing into the lungs. In fact, this is known as “Occupational Asthma” a sickness caused by inhaling fumes, gases, dust, or other potentially harmful substances while working. There are also people who are allergic to certain chemical smells and even, air fresheners. So by stocking the work kitchen or bathroom cupboard full of chemical products to maintain office hygiene, you are actually increasing the staff’s health risk!
Tips to maintain office hygiene
If you’re the business owner or office manager trying to maintain office hygiene and reduce health risks, as the world gradually transits back to the office, here are some tips to help you:
1. Keep high touch areas clean
Employees and cleaning staff should routinely clean frequently touched surfaces, such as keyboards, desks, countertops, and doorknobs. Providing disposable wipes is a good way to encourage workers to wipe down commonly used surfaces before leaving their offices.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated in 2020 that coronaviruses are easy to kill with the right products but new viral pathogens are less predictable. Few disinfectant products specifically target them. The general medical advice from EPA is to use cleaning agents for high-touch areas. Yet, as shown above, traditional cleaning liquids can be a health risk.
Alternatively, you can arrange for specialised cleaning agencies to disinfect your office in order to lower health risk. In the long-term, a more cost-efficient option to maintain office hygiene is to use equipment with UV-C light to sanitise frequently touched surfaces and objects. Unlike traditional cleaning solutions, it works anywhere on almost anything. Many recent studies such as this have shown that it is very effective at eliminating germs, viruses, and bacteria. To find out more about how UV-C light works, you can refer to this article in the Steinman Newsroom.
2. Get rid of clutter
The Chinese believe that clutter is bad for Fengshui. Fengshui is all about harmonising relations with the environment, and it is true - unnecessary items lying around not only decreases office hygiene as it is a hassle to clean, but it also makes the office look untidy. Issuing reminders to employees to remove clutter from their workstations may be necessary.
It is also a physical health risk. Bulky items can hamper access to fire escapes or other emergency exits and even start a fire. As a result, it is recommended to minimise clutter.
3. Keep air flowing
As offices are usually air-conditioned and have little ventilation, opening windows and using fans will help to get air circulating and freshen foul odours. It is also a good idea to install a portable air purifier in smaller corners where air is more stagnant.
It is crucial to ensure that all employees who use chemical products understand the instructions to use them safely. Any chemical-based substances should be placed within adequately ventilated, cool areas, as chemicals are combustible if exposed to sunlight. Keep smoking areas away from storage and usage areas as well.
In the pantry, draw up rules so that users will keep their own crockery clean. The refrigerator also has to be cleaned out weekly, to ensure no mouldy food.
It's difficult to maintain an adequate level of office hygiene since employees may not heed reminders or might feel they are not responsible for keeping work areas clean. Installing the new Steinman UV Procare (Steriliser + Dryer) Cabinet will help employers reduce the stress of frequent monitoring.
We designed the cabinet for users to just pop their items into a container and let the inbuilt UV-C technology sanitise all surfaces. A tempered liquid crystal display tells you the mode and settings, and a safe-lock function stops anyone from accidentally unlocking the cabinet. There are different modes for sterilising or drying only. You can sterilise almost everything - from small personal items such as earphones, the mouse, stationary, to bigger items such as utensils, even keyboards!
To find out more about a Steinman UV Procare Cabinet to reduce health risks at the office, speak to our representative at Steinman today!