Winter has arrived, and South African businesses are facing an onslaught of germs – not just from people, but from their office furniture too.
Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, says that South African companies face losing millions of hours’ worth of productivity due to sickness this winter.
“Germs are everywhere; it’s a fact of life. Also known as microbes, bacteria, bugs and now even superbugs, various types of germs live within us, on us and all around us.
“Many of them keep us healthy and alive, but others pose threats to our well–being – especially if our bodies cannot manage them.”
Andrews notes that according to a Lancaster University study, 72% of people report going to work when they are sick.
“What most people don’t realise is that it’s not just germs from people that spread to colleagues – office surfaces and materials used in the office space can be potent germ transmitters too.
“Germs are loiterers. They can live and thrive on all kinds of surfaces, including—and especially—desks in the workplace. Many office materials harbour germs, making them as infectious as a sneezing colleague when you consider up to 180% of infections can be transmitted by touch.”
Andrews adds that the problem is likely to be exacerbated by the fact that nearly 40% of the workforce is expected to be mobile by 2017.
“Workplaces today need to provide a variety of places for people to work, giving people choice and control over where and how they work. But as employees use shared workstations throughout the day, there is also increased need to minimise sharing harmful bacteria.
“One study by the University of Arizona’s Dr Charles Gerba found more than 10-million germs on the average desk. Crumbs for example that accumulate on desks, are a perfect environment for bacteria and fungi to thrive.”
According to Andrews, the global transition from assigned “I spaces” to shared “we spaces” has created rising demand for the use of antimicrobials in the workspace, as a way of fighting back against the proliferation of germs.
“Antimicrobial agents and coatings are technologies that either kill or slow the growth of microbes.
“We’ve seen an increased demand from our clients in South Africa and across Africa for antimicrobials since we pioneered them in 2011 in South Africa and have had them as standard since then.
“They’re gaining relevance in the workplace as an option to dramatically reduce germs on frequently touched surfaces such as the work surface edge and desk pad, height-adjustment controls, and power and data access points.”
Andrews says that the increased use of antimicrobials is expected to significantly reduce the cost of absent workers and related health care, as they become a standard feature of office ware over the next decade.
“Antimicrobials show promise as another way to proactively create health-conscious work environments in support of improved worker wellbeing.
“Although antimicrobial materials should not replace or decrease regular cleaning routines or good hygiene practices such as hand washing, coughing into elbows and staying home when sick, they can add another level of potential benefit by sharply reducing germs in the workplace,” Andrews concludes.
Keep it clean
The increase in germs in the workplace during winter can be combatted easily if you follow these top tips:
Clean and sanitise properly
Don’t wait for the cleaning staff to clean your desk once a week. Items that are constantly touched, such as keyboards, mice and telephones, should be regularly wiped down and sanitised. Anti-bacterial cleaning products have active ingredients that kill germs and microbes, while leaving the items clean and fresh. These products are available in convenient sizes and containers, meaning you can keep them near your desk or in a drawer, and clean these instruments daily.
Specially-formulated keyboard sanitiser sprays clean the keyboard without making it wet, and prevent the build-up of germs.
Use an anti-bacterial handwash or personal hand sanitiser during the winter season. If you go to the bathroom, sneeze, blow your nose or shake hands with someone, make sure to clean your hands afterwards. Available in waterless gel forms, as handwashes and as wipes, anti-bacterial sanitisers can be kept within easy reach in handbags, pockets and desk drawers. Cleaning your hands properly will ensure that you don’t transmit germs to other people or the items on your desk.
Pests, such as rodents and cockroaches, can also carry diseases which will make the workplace an unhealthy environment. Ensure that employees don’t eat at their desks, as crumbs and other detritus will attract pests. Keep food storage to a communal kitchen area, rather than hoarding food in the desk drawer. Wipe or sweep away any food particles left in the kitchen or office area, to ward off unwanted visitors.