In the peak of cold and flu season, many employees may hide at their desks to avoid coughing and sneezing co-workers, yet leading health experts say that could be the very place that makes them sick.
A study by the University of Arizona (UA) found the typical worker's desk had thousands of times more bacteria than an office toilet seat - and desks, phones and keyboards were the prime habitats for the viruses that cause colds and flu. Dr Charles Gerba, microbiologist at UA, said office items were key germ transfer points because people touch them so often, adding that simple office hygiene can reduce infection risks dramatically.
"A lot of people eat at their desks all the time so it basically turns into a bacteria cafeteria," Gerba said, adding that wiping down work areas with disinfectant wipes every day reduces bacteria significantly.
Yet the flu will continue to rage at many offices. Another study found 60% of unwell employees feel compelled to go into work because they have "too much going on" or felt the need to "tough it out". It was also found that while 50% of workers clean their inboxes at least once a day, only 15% clean their physical workplace.
"Organisations of all sizes can create effective cleaning programs to help reduce the spread of office germs," Roger McFadden, senior scientist at Staples Advantage said. "However, individuals can also do their part to protect themselves and their co-workers from germs. For example, encourage respiratory etiquette, use tissues, clean up workspaces and wash hands properly."
Many health service providers can conduct in-office flu vaccinations for employees, and Direct Health Solutions (DHS) is one provider that has commenced 2012 flu shots. Office vaccination programs are administered by fully qualified nurse immunisers, and should typically be delivered to recipients between February and May each year.
According to DHS, benefits of ensuring all staff are flu-ready include:
- Reduces sick-leave and absenteeism
- Limits disruption to staff performance and productivity
- Reduces the risk of spreading the flu at work and home
- Helps protect others who are at high medical risk from the flu
- Reduces the risk of unrealistic workloads for unaffected staff
- Demonstrates the employer's interest in workers' health and welfare