Human Resources News & Insights

We’ve got the dirt on workplace hygiene

Myth or fact:
– An office keyboard has more bacteria on it than the average toilet seat.
– Women spread more germs than men do.
We have the answers to those – and more work-hygiene facts you wish you’d never heard about.

All of this is according to Charles Gerba, a University of Arizona professor of microbiology who studies such things.

First, professor Gerba swears on a stack of toilet paper that the two contentions – about keyboards and women – are fact.

The typical keyboard is a bouilliabaisse of bacteria because (a) people’s hands tend to have a lot of microscopic scuzz on them and (b) they catch food debris from those of us who hunch and munch over the keyboards (and you know who you are), which hardly ever get a good cleaning. 

As for the women-as-germ-spreaders, that’s a good thing, sort of. Women generally have a healthier diet than men. Thus, the ladies tend to store apples, bananas and other biodegradable, healthful food at and in their desks. Men go for less nutritious, less germy junk food, such as gum or potato chips. 

What to do?
What to do to protect yourself, besides work in a bubble?

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water, and use a hand sanitizer or wipes. But don’t use the sanitizers alone. You need soap and water to penetrate the skin and clean deeply.
  • Don’t touch your face or mouth while at the keyboard. One study showed people, on average, touch the face area 18 times an hour. That represents 18 free trips for Mr. Bacteria.
  • Don’t shake hands. That can be awkward, especially if the company CEO offers a paw. Professor Gerba’s advice: Fib. Say that you have a cold and don’t want to spread it.

And take this last factoid for what it’s worth. Gerba’s study of offices in New York, San Francisco and Tucson, AZ, found that teachers’ offices had by far the highest levels of germs per square inch, nearly three times as much as bankers, the next most contaminated professionals. Lawyers had the least. (Provide your own punchline.)

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  1. Wendy Weinbaum says:

    Lawyer’s offices have the least bacteria, out of professional respect from the OTHER germs! LOL!!

  2. Lie so you don’t have to shake hands, because you will “catch” bacteria from another’s hand???? SERIOUSLY???? So why am I not asking others to open the door for me so THEY get more bacteria on their hands???!!!! (yeah, that’s what I’ll do…) Oh, but feel free to use my pen, phone, mouse, and keyboard along with the filing cabinets, copier, microwave, sink, etc. – with those funky hands.

  3. Wendy Weinbaum says:

    Anissa is right. Lying for any reason is wrong, and in this case it is because of the paranoia of a clean-freak. You build up your immune system by exposure to these microbes.

  4. Nothing wrong with being concious about germs.

  5. Diane Therese says:

    Just wash your hands or don’t put them in your mouth after shaking hands…and clean your area regularly.
    I also agree that exposure is the way the body builds immunity and lying, even a little, is a bad habit and wrong. (if you have an immune deficiency, by all means, do what you feel is appropriate to avoid illness)
    Now, if the person proferring their hand for a shake just sneezed or wiped their nose, you may want to politely decline.

  6. I worry less about germs than the other lady in my office (who is a germ freak) and my family and I are sick less often…what does that tell you? Build up your immune system, quit worrying about the hand sanitizer and get back to work!

  7. I wonder about the germs on a keyboard. They always say it is from crumbs and food, which is understandable. But what if you never eat at your desk, and don’t have the food issue? The same goes with your desk – We’re not allowed to eat or have food anywhere except the break room, and with a boss keeping a close eye on us, we all stand by it. I wonder how much bacteria is on our desk, etc, compared to “food” offices?

  8. Build up my immune system you say? Well, quite literally, I can’t. Exposure to those common microbes can potentially put me in the hospital because I have an immuno deficiency. So, what do you recommend I do? What to do with an exceptionally dirty co-worker? Quit worrying about the hand sanitizer when the same hand sanitizer can keep me from getting sick, ending up in the hospital and raising insurance costs for not just me but my entire firm? That sounds like a fabulous idea. Oh and I will use my hard-earned sick and vacation leave because some one else in the office passed around germs. Yes, let’s do that.

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