Open-access content Thursday 1st September 2011 — updated 3.30pm, Tuesday 26th May 2020
2 September 2011
What causes you to lose most sleep - germs or global terrorism? You can be excused for going with the latter, but you couldn't be more wrong. Germ avoidance, it turns out, is a critical life skill.
And the office is one of the world's most deadly places to be if you are in germ-avoidance mode, according to a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona.
Professor Charles P. Gerba, in his 15-minute YouTube presentation called Hygiene in the 21st Century, has two messages. His first is that we share the world with other humans so we share their germs. It's unavoidable.
The home is a dangerously germ-ridden place. But the office should make you cower.
Most office workers won't clean their desk until they start sticking to it, he claims. I always figured that my keyboard held a lethal concoction of ageing food and spilt coffee. It does, he argues - to the point that it's a bacterium's cafeteria.
Women, he believes, have the most 'germy' desk tops and drawers because they store more food than men, and most of it tends to be fresh produce, at least when purchased.
By far the most germ-laden workplace - 20 times grubbier than that of any other profession - is the school. This is largely because a teacher's office is piled high with students' papers that have been sneezed and coughed all over.
The cleanest workplaces are those of doctors (out of necessity, he says). A close second come the desks of lawyers (because they're always out playing golf?).
In general, the dirtiest offices in the US are to be found in New York, the cleanest in San Francisco. That's because the bad weather in the northeastern US keeps people inside their offices for lunch; the Californian culture allows for al fresco lunching.
If you thought for one second you escape office environment germs by working from home, forget it. A home office tends to be more germy that your office at work; several age groups, from toddlers to grandparents, have been using your home office for all kinds of things.
Speaking of kids, when dropping them off at kindergarten, think twice about setting foot inside, he says. Kids spread germs like there's no tomorrow, and by the sounds of his warning about germs, there won't be. Cold, flu and diarrhea germs are all over kindergarten surface areas.
I also had no idea how explosively dangerous that ground-floor button in the lift at work was. Gerba makes the point that everyone has to touch it in order to get to the ground floor and leave the building.
But just how dangerous can the first floor button be? Consider, he relates, that most people will put a finger in their nose at least five times an hour.
At the end of his frightening 15-minute video, Gerba soothingly urges people not to become a "germ-o-phobe". This brings him to his second message - for heaven's sake, wash your hands more often.
It's good to see that one business has taken Gerba's germ-avoidance message to heart. DirecTV, a satellite television provider in the US, is working on a germ-free remote control for use by hotels.
The advertising blurb says, "DirecTV's anti-bacterial remote has an anti-microbial coating covering the entire device that will kill 99 per cent of germs, including flu virus strains and cold viruses".
Even DirecTV acknowledges Gerba's second message. "The remote should not serve as a replacement to washing your hands, but it will be a comfort knowing that DirecTV provides an anti-microbial coating to protect you and your family from viruses."
However, I'm far from comfortable about the office environment. What about the remotes used to control all that expensive new audio-visual and video-conferencing equipment?
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
David Arminas, news editor of FM World
Other news for Thursday, 2 September 2011:?
Cushman appoints ex Barclays property chief
Suffolk and Norfolk police collaborate on FM
Apollo swoops for ex-Morrison director
John Laing recognises RMT union
Be afraid, be very afraid