There is really no such thing as completely germ-free, but with flu season under way and all the news about Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), now is a good time to make sure your work-space is clean and free of as many contagions as possible. You already know that you should wash your hands, cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and not touch your eyes or nose. But even if you are being careful, others might not be as diligent and could spread germs through items that are routinely shared in an office or work setting.
First, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends knowing the difference between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing:
Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. Cleaning works by using soap (or detergent) and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. This process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection.
The CDC says the flu virus can live and potentially infect a person for up to 48 hours after being deposited on a surface. The good news is that they “are relatively fragile, so standard cleaning and disinfecting practices are sufficient to remove or kill them.”
There are several surfaces in an office that are most likely to harbor germs: phones, computer keyboards and mouse, desktops, copiers, water-coolers, drinking fountains, and doorknobs. This is because they are touched often by multiple individuals or are places you do not normally think to sanitize. For most of these surfaces an antibacterial spray or wipe will work for cleaning them. For things like copiers and water-coolers, you should first refer to the manufacturer’s instructions. Be sure to pay attention to the areas that are touched most often: the water-cooler spigot, the control panel on a copier, the copier lid, and the paper trays. If you are not in an office, you should focus your cleaning attention on handles to machines, tools, and any work-space or other items that are shared. Some machines, equipment, and tools require specialized cleaning so check with a supervisor or safety person before using a disinfectant wipe for cleaning. Otherwise, it is a good idea to give everything a good wipe down at the start of your shift, and after anyone else uses items in your area. Regardless of office or factory, the break room is one of the most commonly used places at work. Even if it gets a regular cleaning every day, its use throughout the day could lead to the spread of colds or flu. Areas you should pay special attention to are:
- Handles: to doors, drawers, microwaves, refrigerators, coffee pots, and sink faucets. Either wipe them with a disinfectant wipe or use one on your hands after touching any of these spots.
- Sponges: there is a reason restaurants are not allowed to use sponges for cleaning. They are ripe for the growth of bacteria, with damp spaces where unhealthy organisms can multiply. If possible, switch to brushes or disposable towels instead of a sponge. If you have to use a sponge, make sure it never sits in the bottom of the sink. Always wring it out very well and place it in a holder that will allow it to dry faster.
- Vending machines: some places have vending machines in the break room. Be sure to clean the selector buttons, change return and any flaps that move inward to allow you to obtain the product you have purchased.
The other most commonly used room at work is the bathroom. Here the best rule is to wash your hands when you are finished using it and use a paper towel to open the door when exiting. And do not forget pens, pencils and markers. In many work areas, writing instruments are shared. It is best to bring your own to work. If that is not possible, be sure to wipe them down before you use them and try not to share during your shift. Lastly, clean your personal cell phone regularly. According to scientists at the University of Arizona, “cell phones carry 10 times more bacteria that most toilet seats”! While some of that is natural bacteria and oils found on your hands, Streptococcus, MRSA and even E. coli have been found on cell phones. If you do not have the cleaning instructions that came with your phone, a solution of 60 percent water and 40 percent rubbing alcohol will work. Dip a cloth into the solution to gently wipe off all the surface areas of the phone.
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