How to Prevent Spreading Germs in the Workplace

Author:Denise Perreault

For the average worker, a seemingly sanitary workplace can double as a veritable petri dish and harbor tens of millions of pesky microbes on common items that can lead to illness. When you consider that around 80% of illnesses are caused by contact with infected people or surfaces contaminated by germs, it's obvious that it is vital to protect yourself and your coworkers during flu season. Luckily, reducing the risk of infection and outbreak can be achieved by following relatively simple hygiene and behavior guidelines. If you find yourself in contact with a number of coworkers and clients every day, wash your hands at regular intervals, disinfect surfaces, and be considerate when you experience symptoms of your own. For extra protection, consider talking with your boss and coordinating with cleaning services to make sure that your workplace is as much of an illness-free zone as possible.

Wash Your Hands

Handwashing is the cornerstone of good hygiene. It can also be a fundamental exercise when attempting to stave off the spread of germs in the office. Touching items and people, as through handshakes, can be unavoidable in a work environment. To stamp out germs that may have transferred onto you as a result of contact with an infected person or a germ-tainted surface, wash your hands several times throughout the workday. Scrubbing the entire surface and backs of your hands as well as underneath your nails for no less than 20 seconds with basic soap and water can pack a mighty punch against threatening microbes.

Clean Surfaces

Community surfaces, like tables, doorknobs, telephones, and office supplies, can harbor countless microbes even on their best days. When employees are sick, they can act as home bases for germs. Do your due diligence and clean surfaces that constantly come into contact with others' hands with disinfectant wipes, including break room areas. Using wipes can reduce the number of bacteria on any surface by at least 90%. If there aren't any wipes handy, consider finding a bottle of rubbing alcohol, moistening a clean tissue with it, and cleaning surfaces as needed.

Be Considerate When You're Sick

The quick spread of illness in an office can sometimes be traced back to the behavior of employees. If you find yourself feeling ill, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze to prevent the inadvertent spread of airborne germs. Dispose of your tissues in a wastebasket immediately after you use them to reduce the chances that others will accidentally touch them; if no tissues are available, sneeze into your sleeve as a last resort. Wash your hands each time you touch your nose, eyes, or mouth, especially after noting the first signs of illness. If you think you're coming down with the flu, request to go home as soon as possible and consider staying home for at least 24 hours, until your fever breaks.

Maintain Your Personal Workspace

Personal office items, such as keyboards and desks, have reputations for collecting millions of germs a day. Pay special attention to items that you touch every day and regularly disinfect them, even if you're not currently ill. Avoid eating at your desk, as this activity can spread germs at your workstation, and make sure to add vitamin C-rich foods to your diet and drink lots of water to stave off illness. Get as much fresh air as possible; open windows near your workspace, or go outside during breaks. Consider keeping an alcohol-based gel or hand sanitizer on your desk for quick access in case you accidentally touch an ill person or an item that you suspect harbors germs.

Additional precautionary measures can protect your health. Keep your distance from ill or infected people by standing approximately three feet away from them, and create makeshift gloves by using paper towels to open doors. Consider talking to your boss for directions on what to do when illness breaks out in the workplace. Some companies have pandemic policies in place that are designed to minimize exposure to germs and illnesses. Vaccinations may be made available at jobs where management and bosses have the foresight to nip sickness in the bud.

Coordinate With Janitorial and Custodial Services

If you're an employer, work with your janitorial or custodial personnel to keep your business germ-free. Talk to your janitors and custodians and advise them of any outbreaks that occur. Make sure that they have cleaning supplies that are recognized as being capable of fighting germs and the flu. Products that have been registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can typically maintain optimum health within a work environment.