Workzone: Clean office just what doctor ordered

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If you want to avoid catching a cold at work, you might want to clean off the handles of the faucet and the microwave in the company's break room.

Then go back to your desk and kill the germs there.

Because in this world where companies are cutting sick time for employees, more sick people are at work when they should be home -- creating a corporate "bring your cold to work day" event every day.

Kelly Arehart, a scientist with Kimberly-Clark Professional in Roswell, Ga., the business-to-business arm of the company that makes Scott brand products and Kleenex tissues, said compared to the break rooms of most companies, "the bathroom was superclean."

Kimberly-Clark scientists went to five different kinds of workplaces -- a manufacturing facility, a call center, a law firm, an insurance office and a health care company -- and took swabs to test the germ counts in those workplaces.

The study found that 75 percent of the break room faucet handles and 48 percent of the microwave door handles contained high levels of germs.

Ms. Arehart said that makes sense, because while every company knows the bathrooms need to be cleaned, the break room is used -- but not really cared for -- in the same way.

Break room tables and office conference tables both tend to collect a large number of germs.

Keyboards and desks are a little cleaner, though the company's research has found that the average desk still has 20,000 germs per square inch.

Unless you are working in a sterile environment, work is a place filled with germs.

Teachers have it the worst.

Kimberly-Clark found that surfaces that teachers touch during their work day have 10 times more bacteria per square inch than surfaces touched by any other professional.

Ms. Arehart said it's not just the sneezing co-worker who is spreading germs in the office. On your way to work you might pump gas (70 percent of the gas pump handles tested were highly contaminated with germs) or take an escalator to the subway (40 percent of escalator hand rails were highly contaminated).

Maybe you get coffee and then when you get to work, you sit at your work station without cleaning your hands and you spread those germs around your keyboard and desk.

She recommends using hand sanitizer and wiping down your desk and keyboard when you sit down and once again later in the day. And, of course, washing your hands before eating.

In offices where their has been a 90-day challenge to encourage workers to wipe down their work stations and cleaning their hands, Kimberly-Clark has found a 40 percent decrease in absenteeism. And cleaner desks.OBJECT

Ann Belser: or 412-263-1699.

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