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What Are the Main Sources of Infection That Exist in Your Workplace?

Infection in the Workplace

Infection in the workplace is all too common — with so many people moving around and touching things, exposure to coughs and colds is simply unavoidable. Yet, work is integral to our daily lives, something we can't decide to forgo in the name of health. Knowing the sources of infection in the office and how to prevent illness are crucial for your performance at work and the company's bottom line.

The Office Has Never Been Germier

Your exposure to germs at work starts the moment you grab the door handle to your office building. From there, you touch your desk area, computer, telephone, shared writing utensils, and other surfaces littered with bacteria. In fact, your desk contains 400 times more germs than a toilet seat. 

Infection in the workplace spreads by touching germy items, breathing air after someone coughs or sneezes, and making close contact with someone sick. Although you're at a heightened risk of falling ill during flu season or peak COVID-19, other diseases like human rhinovirus (HRV), adenovirus, and parainfluenza viruses affect the upper respiratory system year-round or primarily in warmer months. 

Getting sick negatively impacts your ability to perform your duties and amounts to high revenue losses for your company. Poor health hinders productivity, costing employers $1,685 per employee annually. The best way to ensure your health doesn't affect the company's success is to stay healthy at work.

Tips for Preventing Infection in the Workplace

Preventing infection in the workplace is crucial to avoid severe disease that gets in the way of you doing your job. Here are seven tips for avoiding getting sick at work. 

1.   Wash Your Hands

According to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), people touch their faces 23 times per hour — that's a lot of opportunities to get sick. It should go without saying that washing your hands regularly throughout the day is essential for warding off germs. However, there's a correct way to wash your hands to prevent infection.

The Cleveland Clinic recommends lathering your hands with soap for a minimum of 20 seconds — you can quietly sing the birthday song twice as a makeshift timer. Remember to wash up to your wrists, between your fingers, and under your fingernails, too. Longer nails harbor 32 bacteria and 28 fungi, including staphylococcus and MRSA.

2.   Clean Personal and Shared Space

You're fortunate if you work in a private office with a door. However, common work areas — shared workspaces, break rooms, and more — should undergo routine cleaning. Floors, doorknobs, desks, computer keyboards, chairs, and office equipment are the perfect hosts for millions of germs, especially when used by so many people.

Taking accountability for your personal belongings and workspace is equally important. Wipe down your computer, keyboard, mouse, telephone, and desk at the end of each day. Keeping a clean work area for yourself can protect you from contracting an infection in the workplace.

3.   Cover Coughs and Sneezes

Coughing and sneezing are our natural responses to being under the weather. However, your coworkers won't appreciate you spraying your germs on them, just as you'd be upset if they did the same to you. Following proper coughing and sneezing etiquette will prevent you from getting others sick in the office and help you avoid catching your work neighbor's cold.

Carry a handkerchief or tissues with you for coughing and sneezing. If you don't have a tissue, cough and sneeze into your sleeve. Whatever you use to cover your mouth and nose will reduce the germs you spread in the office. Otherwise, always discard your tissues by wrapping them up and throwing them in the trash.

4.   Boost Immunity

You can prevent getting sick at work by boosting your immunity. A nutritious diet will ensure adequate vitamins and minerals for optimal health. Vitamin C supplements can also help to increase your body's immune response.

Additionally, about 70% to 80% of our immunity rests in the gut microbiome. One of the best ways to protect yourself from infection is by increasing good bacteria in the gut. Taking probiotics and eating yogurt, fermented foods and whole grains can also replenish the good gut bacteria to balance out your digestive system.

5.   Minimize Clutter

Reduce clutter in your workspace for less dust and bacteria. The fewer objects you have lying around, the better for preventing infection. Humans spend 90% of their day indoors, where dust — a combination of bodily secretions, dead skin cells, hair, dander and dirt — can negatively affect their respiratory systems. 

Only keep what you need nearby during the workday and store extra items in drawers and cabinets. Additionally, organizing your work area so that folders, notebooks, pens and other desk accessories are kept together can reduce the amount of dust buildup. 

6.   Avoid Non-Essential Travel

Some jobs require taking business trips to meet with clients and industry peers. However, if you can avoid all other non-essential travel, you can better protect yourself from infection. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 43% to 79% of travelers get sick after visiting low- and middle-income nations. 

Following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel was deemed dangerous regardless of where you visited. During the flu season, you can also increase your risk of getting sick. Whether you travel by plane, train or car, you make yourself vulnerable to diseases while moving around and touching more surfaces. 

7.   Isolate at Home

A 2019 study by Robert Half Talent Solutions found that 90% of employees show up sick at work, including one-third who go into the office with cold or flu symptoms. The primary reason is that they have too much work to catch up on if they stay home. However, going to work sick puts your coworkers at risk of contracting your illness. Ultimately, multiple people calling out could disrupt productivity for the entire company. 

McKinsey's most recent American Opportunity Survey shows that 58% of Americans can work remotely at least once a week — a result of the work-from-home culture birthed during the pandemic. You no longer need to go to the office if you're feeling sick — not when you can conduct business from home in your pajamas. However, resting when under the weather is best for healing and preventing burnout. 

Stay Healthy at Work

The last thing you want is to make yourself vulnerable to infection in the workplace. With so many office germs, it may seem impossible. However, you can take preventive measures to avoid getting sick and reduce exposure to germs.

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