Under siege

Simple steps can keep workplace germs from attacking employees

Posted: Sunday, October 29, 2006

If your office looks like a makeshift sick ward, you may want to spearhead a healthy office makeover of your own. As the flu season begins, germs can incubate and cause viruses at anytime.

Staying healthy at work is often easier said than done and can cause severe drops in productivity and missed workdays. Though we all know an office martyr or two - workers who come in to work despite fever, constant coughing, aches and pains - those employees may actually be doing the company a disservice.

Keep it clean

Dr. Chris Coulter, chief medical officer for Precept, a provider of health management, benefits and HR services based in Irvine, Calif., says eliminating germs in the workplace - or anywhere, for that matter - is easier than you might think.

"Hand washing is a good preventative," he explains. "You come into contact with things that a whole lot of other people have touched and some may have viruses. What most people don't know is if you're coming down with a cold, you start spreading the virus before you have any symptoms."

So even though you may see a doctor when you have a sore throat or other symptoms of illness, that virus is being spread before you even know you have it. That's why it's important to practice good hygiene year round. Additionally, smoking can lower your immunity to viruses and stress can lead to a drop in preventative measures, such as hand washing, experts say.

"Hand washing has consistently shown to significantly decrease your chances of getting sick at work," says Coulter. "Washing your hands five to six times a day will decrease your chances of getting sick by 50 percent. For most people, that means washing them every time you go to the bathroom, after lunch or taking public transportation."

Interestingly, Coulter says that while using protective tissue on a public toilet seat is fine, your chances of getting sick from the seat are slim. More importantly, workers should avoid touching restroom doorknobs and faucets. These are areas that provide easy access to harmful bacteria.

Follow the basics

"Following simple grade school health class rules, like using Kleenex and covering your mouth when you cough is a good preventative," adds Coulter. "It's also good to wipe down phones or keyboards, which will prevent transmission of those kinds of agents."

A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the American Society for Microbiology found that more women than men wash their hands after using the bathroom - 90 percent of women compared with 75 percent of men. Additionally, 91 percent of all adults surveyed said they wash their hands after using public restrooms, however, only 83 percent were observed doing so.

Products such as waterless hand sanitizers and antibacterial wipes are now becoming a staple in households and workplaces nationwide. But, Coulter warns that antibacterial soaps and wipes can actually cut down on good bacteria, so they should be used sparingly.

Many companies are combating flu season by offering free or discounted flu shots. The Centers for Disease Control recommends getting flu shots in October or November. Taking advantage of health and wellness programs, such as screenings and vaccinations, can keep you healthy and productive all year long.

- Lisa Radke

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