Tips to Fend-Off Germs of Coughing Coworkers in the Office

It’s the height of flu season, and just trying to avoid coughing co-workers in the office or plant facility may not be enough to stave off a case of the flu. Bad bugs can spread very quickly through the workplace.

Germs thrive on human touch, so anything that gets regular contact — telephone, mouse, keyboard — is a threat. "You're touching about 30 objects per minute in your workspace" says germ guru Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a microbiologist from the University of Arizona, who recently conducted a study of germs in the workplace. Among his findings: The humble cubicle is the germiest place in the office.

Gerba’s study shows how quickly germs can travel within an office. In the study, researchers tracked a virus from a doorknob or table to other surfaces in several different facilities, and found that on average it had spread to 60% of common surfaces within 4 hours! “The average worker touches hundreds of surfaces each day, and that’s the primary way that germs are spread,” said Gerber.

Most of you probably swear by the office bathroom drill: Wash hands, dry hands, use paper towel to open door, maneuver elbow and leg to move door, and return — skin untouched by germ threats — to your desk. But, little do you know that, on average, about 21,000 germs per square inch are waiting there for you at your desk. That’s almost 400 times more than the toilet seat you were so worried about. Your workspace needs some sanitation love, too. Here are a few pointers about keeping your workplace as clean as can be.

Play Defense

Don't just wash your hands in that bathroom ritual; scrub 'em, says Jack Brown, Ph.D., author of Don't Touch That Doorknob! How Germs Can Zap You and How You Can Zap Back. "The scrubbing motion dislodges the organisms from the surface,” Brown said, adding that a thorough wash should take about 45 seconds.

Here we can’t help but mention that washing in a CleanTech handwashing system only takes 12 seconds, and wastes zero water or chemical.

Avoid the Crowd and BYOB

Shared space like the office kitchen is a germ magnet. "About 20 percent of the office cups contain coliform bacteria, which is related to fecal contamination," Dr. Gerba says. Opt for a paper cup, or keep your own mug and wash it regularly with dish soap and a paper towel. And when possible, pass on control of the PowerPoint remote in the conference room — the gadgets registered some of the highest bacteria levels in Dr. Gerba's study.

Grab a Wipe

Wipe down your space daily with a disinfectant — a chemical agent that kills microorganisms (plain ol' water won't deep-six germs). Handy dispenser wipes like Clorox Disinfecting Wipes and Lysol Sanitizing Wipes run only about 10 cents a sheet.


SmartPhones – Our new best friend

Forget the dog – Smart phones are our new best friends and a veritable petri dish for tens of thousands of viruses and bacteria. The heat that phones generate and the constant contact with your hand and face make it a prime place for germs to hang out. In fact, in a 2011 University of London study found that 80% of cell phones tested had more than 18 times as much harmful bacterium than was found on the handle in a public restroom. Gross. You might consider an anti-microbial film coating, or regularly wipe your device down with anti-microbial cloths. We like ZAGG wipes (

Needless to say, the best way to keep germs at bay this time of year is regular and consistent handwashing. Next time you reach for the door, type on a keyboard or shake someone’s hand – remember to wash your hands!



“Quit Whining About your Sick Colleague.” NYT Online, December 29, 2014.

“How to Kill Office Germs and Stop Cold and Flu in their nasty Tracks.” US News & World Report, December 30, 2014.

“Learn How to Germ Proof Your Office.” Women’s Health Magazine Online, December 2014


Topics:Hand Hygiene Resources