3 Hidden Health Hazards in the Office

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When one person gets sick in the office jungle, having other people come down with the same bug seems pretty much inevitable. It all starts with the first sneeze or sniffle of the season. You can try to avoid contact with germs, but in truth, avoidance simply isn’t enough, and germs aren’t the only hidden danger that can be found in the average office building.

In this article, we’ll explore the common sources that contribute to poor indoor air quality and the spread of germs along with ways to address each source.

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Going Viral

Ever feel like colds and flu spread like wildfire in your office? Science agrees! A new study reveals just how quickly viruses spread throughout the office. Scientists from the University of Arizona, including American microbiologist, Charles P. Gerba, used the virus MS-2 to trace how quickly contamination of a similar, more serious virus, norovirus (stomach flu) spreads across buildings like the office.

img3The study consisted of sampling 60-100 surfaces in the office building, including commonly touched surfaces such as light switches and arm chairs. Researchers repeated this after about two hours and found evidence of MS-2 on 40-60% of the people and surfaces in the building. Again, in just TWO hours, 40-60% of the surfaces and people were contaminated with MS-2. We all know how easy it is from there to get sick. Once a hand has been contaminated, involuntary transfer of the virus to the mouth, nose, or eyes can result in an infection. It was concluded that these viruses spread rapidly like wild fire.

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How to Stop the Spread of Germs:

Wash Your Hands

Simple but oh so effective. Washing your hands has been proven study after study to work effectively in reducing the amount of microbes spread in a given area. Whenever possible, lather up with warm water and soap. For times when that’s not feasible, hand sanitizer is a good alternative.

Cover That Mouth

One of the fastest ways for bacteria and viruses to spread is from person to person by mouth. Don’t make your co-workers try to avoid you. Instead, cover that mouth. Always try to cough into a tissue when you’re sick and into an elbow if there are no tissues around.

Also, don’t ever share drinks or lip balm, not even with your office family. You should always use your own utensils and eat your own food, too.

Antibacterial Wipes

According to Charles P. Gerba (the same microbiologist who did the MS-2 study), when disinfectant wipes with quaternary ammonium compounds (QUATS) are used, the viral contamination risk (MS-2) was reduced by 80-90%. QUATS are widely available in popular known disinfectants such as Clorox and Lysol.

Stay Up-To-Date on Immunizations

Most people forget that the easiest way to keep from getting sick is to not come down with an illness in the first place. A simple way to keep yourself healthier and stop bacteria and viruses from spreading is to stay current on your immunizations. Those who fear needles, take heart; there are vaccines available in mist form for some contagious diseases.

To ensure that your whole family is healthy, make sure everyone stays up-to-date on vaccinations, including your little monkeys.

Use Disinfectants to Kill Germs:

img5Once you’ve taken steps to minimize the amount of viruses and bacteria that are spread by taking the above precautions, you can address what germs remain in circulation with the judicious use of disinfectants.

  • Clean the surface first and then apply the disinfectant.
  • Wait 10 minutes after applying the disinfectant and then rinse. You can even clean something else during those 10 min as all those jimmy germs die.
  • Tip: Use disinfectants only when absolutely needed.

Note: Most disinfectants aren’t actually cleaners, so the term isn’t interchangeable. In fact, most disinfectants are meant to kill germs on an already clean surface. (This doesn’t apply to antibacterial wipes.)

Air Purifiers

In addition to taking the above hygienic measures and using disinfectants, you can use an advanced air purifier to actually remove airborne viruses and bacteria from the air in a room.

We recommend checking the specs of an air purifier prior to purchasing if you’re specifically looking for germ-busting capabilities, as not all air purifiers are effective when it comes to pulling viruses and bacteria from the air. Fellowes Aeramax Air Purifiers are an easy to use solution for improving indoor air quality. They actively monitor the surrounding air, kicking on in response to dust, germs and even strong scents. Watch Kelly’s video to see the Aeramax in action:

 

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Fungus

Fungal spores are a normal component of outdoor air. They are present in the atmosphere almost everywhere at any time when the ground isn’t covered in snow. Spores are given off from fungi and can be easily inhaled. When inhaled, fungal spores may act as pathogens. Whenever and wherever humidity is high, such as in the body, spores can germinate and fungi can mimic human body conditions to thrive, resulting in a fungal infection. For this reason, fungi can pose a serious health hazard, especially in areas with dry, hot conditions such as California. Once favorable conditions are presented, the fungal spores can germinate and pose health risks.

An EPA conducted BASE (Building Assessment, Survey and Evaluation) study measured the amount of airborne fungal spores and tested 44 office buildings across the nation. Each day, six indoor air and two outdoor air samples were collected. The Environmental Protection Agency found that fungal spore concentrations in indoor air ranged from < 24 to 1000 spores/m3, except for one building with natural ventilation where indoor levels were approximately 9000 spores/m3. Contrary to belief, the concentration of total spores indoors did not vary significantly between winter and summer or morning and afternoon. To make things worse, the difference between the amount of spores inside and outside was not significant (9%), showing that indoors or out, no one is safe from these little fun-guys!

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Minimizing Mold Exposure:

Control Humidity

  • Control indoor humidity sources.
  • If necessary, use a dehumidifier in humid areas. Humid areas are hot spots for mold and germs to thrive.
  • Control any office air pollution at the source by air sealing enclosures.
  • Manage water vapor flow and condensing surface temperatures to avoid dew point conditions.
  • Carefully clean areas where water collects.
  • Ventilate buildings to dilute indoor air pollutants.

Air Purifiers

Air purifiers are a simple way to remove mold spores and other irritants from the air in a room for cleaner, fresher indoor air. A good air purifier is a healthy choice for anyone, but it’s especially beneficial for allergy sufferers and asthmatics.

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Fine Dust

img9It may not be a virus nor a fungal spore but it’s something equally as hazardous: fine dust. You may not be able to detect it, but the threat is real. The measures taken to control micro-dust have been limited but indoor spaces are where the threat is really at. Printers, copiers, and paper shredders are all examples of electronic devices that produce tiny dust particles that can travel throughout the air in your office. And this time, horrible things come in small packages. The smaller the particle of dust, the higher the health risk it poses. Fine dust, being an allergen, can act as a trigger for allergies in people who are sensitive or have asthma. So, in reality, fine dust is anything BUT fine.

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Controlling Fine Dust:

  • Equip your office with a paper shredder that’s built with a fine dust filter. The Dahle CleanTEC line is an excellent option that effectively reduces fine dust particles in the air.
  • Place entry mats at every outside door.
  • Vacuum or mop instead of brooming. Brooming suspends large amounts of dust in the air while both vacuums and a damp mop collect it.
  • When dusting, never use a feather duster. Feather dusters are not effective at all for gathering up dust. Instead, use a damp cloth that will actually grip dust particles.

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A Healthy Office is a Happy Office

Bacteria, viruses, dust, and fungi. Oh my! When you know what potential health hazards may be lurking in your office, you can take steps to improve the overall health of your indoor environment, making it as clean and healthy as possible. By implementing the above tips and tricks, your air will be fresher, your surfaces will be cleaner, and you and your coworkers will be healthier as a result.

Now that you know, why not spread the good news faster than MS-2?

For more information, visit:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16835164

http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/seminars/girman/girman.pdf

http://www.livescience.com/47730-virus-spread-offices.html

http://fast.wistia.net/embed/iframe/j16q534064?popover=true

http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/

http://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-12/documents/epa_retrofit_protocols.pdf

http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/spread.htm

http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/doh/

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