Office sickness: 10 germiest places in the office

Office sickness: 10 germiest places in the office

After the worldwide impact of COVID-19, many of us are a lot more conscious about the spread of germs and bacteria to prevent ourselves from becoming unwell. However, within the UK, the yearly cost of sickness absences in the workplace is over £29 billion, with employees taking 150 million sick days during 2021. So why is it still so high?

To determine what is still causing a rise in office sickness, we carried out an experiment looking into the areas of the office that carry the most bacteria, where employees are picking up the most germs and where sickness is most likely to spread.

How we tested for bacteria

We used a Hygiena ATP Monitoring System, which is used throughout many hospital and healthcare settings, and is designed to quickly determine the cleaning efficiency and hygienic status of surfaces and liquid samples by collecting an RLU reading. This reading directly correlates to the amount of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP is present in all organic material and is the universal unit of energy used in all living cells. Higher ATP readings mean more organic material is living on a surface.

To put this in relatively simple terms, a perfectly clean and sterilised surface should have a reading of 0. The higher the RLU reading is, the more organic material (bacteria) is present on that surface.

We chose to test several areas around the office, including many of the highest contact areas, such as door handles and kitchen appliances. To carry out the test, we swabbed a 10cm² area on the surface using an UltraSnap swab.

Dirty door handles and unclean kitchens

When it comes to cleanliness in the office, it seems fairly obvious that you’d be more likely to wash your hands after touching a toilet seat than after opening a door. Well, you might want to rethink this, as our study found that the office door handle had over 30 times more bacteria than the toilet seat! The office door handle registered 648 RLU during testing, compared to just 21 for the toilet seat.

One of the biggest hot spots for RLU and bacteria was the staff kitchen. The place where we make hot drinks and consume food was found to have three of the top five highest RLU counts in the whole office. The sink (487), microwave door (408) and kettle (288) all registered in the top five, with the fridge (195) coming eighth.

When it came to workstations, the office chair (222) was another area we might not think of as being unclean that's potentially harbouring a lot of bacteria. The desk phone (193), keyboard (176) and mouse (150) all came in with readings over 100 RLU, whereas the surface of the desk measured 90.

Top 10 office bacteria hotspots

Area Measurement (RLU)
1. Office Door Handle 648
2. Office Sink 487
3. Microwave Door 408
4. Mobile Phone 345
5. Kettle 288
6. Toilet Tap 239
7. Office Chair 222
8. Kitchen Fridge 195
9. Desk Phone 193
10. Keyboard 176

It’s not all bad news

The results of our bacteria testing may look shocking and even slightly worrying, but there is good news. Certain areas that tested a lot lower than others can actually help paint a bigger picture when it comes to office cleanliness, informing our behaviours and the way we keep office spaces clean.

For example, the kitchen table only measured 2 RLU in testing, the lowest of any area tested. This type of surface is one that’d we’d perhaps be most likely to consider first when cleaning, going to show the difference that following cleaning procedures can make to a surface. The same can be said for the toilet seat, an area where you might expect high levels of bacteria, but also a common target when it comes to general cleaning.

This all goes to show that frequent and proper cleaning of high-contact areas within the office is almost certain to make a big difference in reducing RLU presence, and the likelihood of infection or illness being passed around the office

Keeping things clean and avoiding sickness

Every time we touch something in the office, we leave behind tiny microcolonies of bacteria, and therefore any illnesses we may have are likely to be transmitted. Keeping on top of cleaning in the office is an important way to keep that RLU number down and improve general cleanliness in the office. So, even if you don’t have an ATP monitoring system to hand, here are some key tips to help you keep things clean in the office.

1. Use indoor plants to kill airborne viruses

Studies have shown that plants growing in soil are highly effective at removing indoor air pollutants. Keeping indoor plants around your workspace can purify the air and help reduce many forms of stress.

2. Clean regularly

It might seem obvious, but keeping on top of your office cleaning and ensuring that it’s regularly carried out is an important first step. If you hire a cleaning team, ensure that they’re given the time to clean the office at least twice a day and that high-traffic areas are regularly cleaned.

3. Use antibacterial products

A simple wipe down with a wet cloth isn’t going to suffice. Ensure you’re using antibacterial products that are designed specifically to remove bacteria and germs. There are lots of disinfectant cleaning products currently available that will do the job.

4. Don’t forget the less obvious areas

As our research highlighted, those areas that might not jump to mind so quickly are easily left uncared for. Make sure that there’s regular cleaning of surfaces such as door handles, where staff will be coming and going all day.

5. Sanitise your hands

As horrible as it sounds, your employees may not be as clean conscious as yourself. To ensure you aren't passing bacteria from someone else to your own desk, keep some sanitiser handy and regularly wash your hands.

Keeping the office clean is something that has always been a concern but has become even more important since the COVID-19 pandemic. With so many sickness days still being taken each year, it’s beneficial for business owners to address any potential concerns about office cleanliness to ensure any risk of illness isn’t easily spread and all employees feel comfortable and safe within the office environment.