For this month’s Health and Wellbeing Section, Sussex Business Times takes a look at the most common types of bacteria found in the workplace and discusses methods employers can follow to ensure the likelihood of picking up of such illnesses and germs is at a minimum

Bacteria are everywhere. It’s been estimated that the planet contains 5 nonillion of them. To put it plainly – they’re unavoidable. Most bacteria are not harmful to humans, yet a significant percentage of them are. These are the ones that get us sick and your workplace may have more bacteria than you think…
The workplace is ranked as one of the unhealthiest places you’re likely to inhabit on a daily basis, and according to Dr Lisa Ackerley, hygiene expert and visiting Professor at the University of Salford, the amount of sick days taken by office workers could be reduced if companies implement a better cleaning routine.
A study carried out by Dr Ackerley found that the main cause of germs at your desk is poor personal hygiene, with nearly 50% of office workers responding to a survey stating that they do not wash their hands after going to the toilet.
Your hands and the surfaces you touch, including your office chair are germ motorways. Crumbs and spills encourage the growth of bacteria that can lead to stomach bugs, coughs, flu and even food poisoning. Bacteria and viruses that you bring back from the toilet multiply on the hard work surfaces of your desk and chair and remain infectious for 24 hours.
There are hundreds of different kinds of bacteria varieties found in workplaces, and most of them come from humans, whether they’re from our skin, nasal, oral or intestinal cavities. Conventional wisdom would suggest that most bacteria can also be found on our mice and keyboards, but while their levels are high, the biggest offenders are chairs and telephones. Diphtheroids are a commonplace bacteria in most office buildings, and are key in developing acne lesions. They can be especially dangerous to those with weak immune systems, or those whose systems are weak already due to an existing illness. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is another variety of bacteria that is particularly common on keyboards, even after a sanitary wiping process is completed. They are one of the leading causes of pneumonia and urinary tract infections.

There’s a staggering 21,000 germs per square inch on your chair, desk and keyboard. In fact, the average office desk harbours 10 million bacteria. That’s 100 times more germs than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat. Common bacteria found in the office include:

Pseudomonas Aeruginosa: Commonly found in man-made environments like the office and causes illnesses for those with weakened immune systems.

Staphylococcus Aureus: Found in the office where there is contact with skin on items such as keyboards, chairs and door handles. Chairs and fabrics are often overlooked in typical cleaning routines. A stricter cleaning and hygiene policy that includes all work surfaces including chair plastics, metal and fabrics could help reduce unnecessary illnesses in the workplace, and improve a business’ bottom line with less sick days being taken.

Norovirus: This is a virus commonly found in the office that is transferred by food and water. Given that many of us drink, snack or eat lunch at our desks, isn’t it time we took desk cleanliness more seriously? Yet only 20% of office staff clean their workspace before eating.

What can employers do to maintain a clean environment?
Gareth Jones, Commercial Manager at Kit Out My Office, a provider of office furniture online, had this to say: “Keeping your workplace clean and tidy has many benefits, from simply looking visually impressive and professional to your customers through to the health benefits it can offer. We encourage all of our customers to clean their equipment by providing helpful guides on how and when to clean your new office furniture”.
Maintaining a clean working environment is not only better from a visual perspective, it is better for the health of your employees too. Here are some simple and regular cleaning routines that every business should implement at the very least to ensure the chances of picking up germs in the workplace are kept to a minimum…
• Vacuum fabrics to emit dust and germs.
• Spray and wipe plastic and chrome parts with an antibacterial spray.
• Spray and wipe desks daily with an antibacterial spray.
• Remove cutlery and kitchenware from desks.
• Vacuum under and around the desk area.
• Dust and disinfect all equipment weekly, not forgetting small objects such as staplers and scissors.
• Wipe personal headsets with clinical wipes. With regards to shared headsets, wipe after each use.
• Wipe commonly touched areas daily, for example drawer handles, printers and kitchen equipment.
• Empty waste bins weekly.
• Use disposable cloths or paper towels when possible, or failingthat, disinfect re-usable cloths aftereach use.
• Enforce a ‘wash hands regularly’ initiative and ensure all employees follow through with it.
• Urge unwell employees to stay at home and rest – sneezing and coughing are some of the most common ways to spread viruses through the workplace.
• Hire a professional cleaning service. A professional cleaner will be experienced and thorough, will understand germs and how they operate and will have professional equipment and supplies.