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Bizarre HR: Office break rooms the epicenter of germs

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Microwave door handles, break rooms and kitchens at your workplace are the most likely spots in the office that can make you ill, according to a new research.

While people tend to assume bathrooms have the most germs, the break room is the epicenter of germs in the office, the Kimberly-Clark Professional Healthy Workplace Project revealed.

“People eat lunches there, they cough. More colds and flus are spread in break rooms when they touch surfaces and share space with other people,” Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona who carried out the study, explained. “You are dealing with an unregulated restaurant in a lot of ways. People with different hygiene habits are sharing the space with no regulation.”

During the study, hygienists collected nearly 5,000 individual swabs from office buildings containing more than 3,000 employees to identify the spots where germs can lurk, Forbes reported. Participating workplaces represented a broad range of office types, including manufacturing facilities, law firms, insurance companies, healthcare companies and call centers.

The research indicated people feel higher levels of comfort and safety when they believe they are in their own personal space, such as at their office desks, because they tend to believe their germs are safer than other peoples’ germs, Brad Reynolds, the project’s platform leader, noted.

While office desks are not the most unhygienic, the report found they typically have 400 times more germs than toilet seats. To avoid contracting bacteria, Gerba and Brad Reynolds recommended employees develop a habit to wipe your desktop, keyboard, mouse and phone at the beginning or end of every workday.

Other spots with high levels of contamination include the break room sink faucet handles (75%), microwave door handles (48%), keyboards (27%), refrigerator door handles (26%), water fountain buttons (23%) and vending machine buttons (21%).

“Any workplace that fails to use good hygiene practices on a daily basis can become a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses,” Reynolds said. “Lack of attention to cleaning and sanitising, especially at high-risk touch points like kitchen sink handles and microwaves, can lead to the spread of colds, flu and stomach illness. And these illnesses inevitably result in the loss of productivity through absenteeism and presenteesim (coming to work while sick).”


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