If you think simply staying out of the way of coughing colleagues will keep you safe from dreaded office viruses - think again.
New research confirms that touching contaminated objects is the quickest way to spread bugs around the office, highlighting the importance of hygiene standards in the workplace.
Professor of microbiology Dr Charles Gerba and his team at the University of Arizona put a Norovirus-like bug on a workplace door handle and examined how it spread around the office throughout the day.
Every two hours, the researchers took samples from different surfaces such as computers, light switches, coffee cups, and push buttons.
They found that after just two hours; three in five workers (60%) had already been contaminated with the virus.
Lift buttons and telephones were the devices through which the bug was fastest swept around the office, the team said.
The study confirms previous research which had suggested that touching objects is the quickest way to spread infection.
Dr Gerba said the findings show how quickly an office can be contaminated, and that "a simple intervention" can help to significantly cut down virus exposure.
Stop the spread
There are plenty of ways in which you can protect yourself against such viral illnesses at work.
Dr Gerba says good hand hygiene, along with the use of disinfectant wipes, can reduce the bug's spread by up to 99%.
He also believes workers should always be told to stay at home when they're sick.
Dr Gerba adds that it is "incredible" how many objects the "push-button generation" touches during a normal working day - making it far more likely they will catch a bug by touching a phone than by a sneezing colleague.
Tips for a hygienic office
So what can employers do to ensure their workers stay healthy? Here are some simple tips for a hygienic office.
Keep your office well-stocked with hygiene products, including things like tissues, hand sanitisers and disinfectants.
Regularly check the ventilation systems for signs of mould or other environmental issues like water damage that could affect your workers' health.
Insist that your employees keep their workspace clean and organised at all times as part of company policy.
- Don’t give workers a hard time for staying at home when ill. Letting sick workers take time off until they are no longer contagious can keep the office free from illness - which will benefit you in the long-term.
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