Reducing the Spread of Illness in the Office

Whenever we think of germs in a public place the first thing that comes to mind is usually the washroom. It makes sense right? You have a bunch of random people using the same facilities day in and day out, of course, there would be germs; And there are, but in most cases especially in a place of business like an office, the washroom isn’t the most likely culprit. As we touched on in our previous post, things that are more likely to carry germs are the very things we use to work. Things that don’t get cleaned as often or on a schedule the way washrooms do. So then, what can be done to help minimize the transmission of illness-causing germs in the office?


This seems like an obvious solution but for many, but it isn’t.  According to a study done at Queen’s University, approximately 1 in 5 individuals ignore cold and flu symptoms. We live in a culture where go-go-go is celebrated and those that give in to being sick and take days off to recover are looked down on. But staying home when sick is not only for personal benefit and giving your body the time it needs to recover but also for the benefit of those around you. What we are so clearly seeing now with the spread of Covid-19 is that illness affects different people in a variety of ways. What may be tolerable for you, could mean a trip to the hospital or worse for someone else. Therefore, when at all possible stay home, rest, watch movies, and practice self-care, for the sake of yourself and others. Employers need to support and encourage employees to stay home when sick. They can also lead by example, staying home when they feel unwell themselves. Still, this is not always feasible, employers can’t force people to stay home and co-working spaces can’t stop members from accessing facilities because they are sick.  Leading us to number 2…..

Wash Your Hands

About 80% of common infections are spread by the hands. This is expected considering that our hands come into contact with virtually everything around us. But germs don’t actually enter our body through our hands, they are just the carriers. What makes us sick is when the hands that we’ve used to touch or pick up objects, in turn, pick up germs and then we rub our eyes, eat, or put those same unwashed hands in our nose. Germs then have a direct line into our bodies. Washing our hands at least five times a day significantly reduces the risk of picking up viruses like the flu. Educating people on how to wash their hands has also proven to reduce the spread of illness by 16-21%. In-office bathrooms, businesses can post reminder signs for hand washing. Public Health Ontario provides printable posters with a diagram of the proper way to wash hands for your convenience!

Cover your mouth when coughing

Come on, this one is obvious. Just a reminder, do not cough into your hands if at all possible, cough into a tissue and then throw it into the trash, or the inside of your elbow. If you must cough into your hands, then you know what to do…WASH THEM!

For business owners, it is important to have adequate facilities for staff, patrons and members to wash their hands. Where possible sanitizer stations are also useful to encourage hand hygiene.

Wipe Down Frequently Touched Surfaces

In the office, these would be things like printers/copiers, fax machines, keyboards, kitchen appliances etc. In the co-working space where one desk and its contents may be used by multiple people in one day and especially during the week, owners can introduce a cleaning schedule between members to ensure the work area is cleaned and ready for use by the next person. Providing easy access to sanitation wipes also means that members can clean their work area before and/or after using it. 

Reduce Cross-Contamination

Cross-contamination is a significant contributor to the spread of germs. Whether it is from touching contaminated surfaces with bare hands or wiping multiple services with the same cloth. A way to reduce this spread in the office would be to colour code cleaning materials and solutions for different areas of the office. For example, bathrooms cleaned with only blue cloths and matching solutions, desks cleaned with yellow cloths and related solutions etc. This way bathroom germs are not being carried from one area of the office to another. For spaces that have a kitchen, change tea towels, sponges and other cleaning supplies regularly. It is also important to ensure that proper cleaning solutions for dishes are available. Using a dishwasher where possible is also ideal as this allows dishes to be washed at sanitized at high heat to kill germs and bacteria. 

Ultimately there is only so much that can be done to minimize the spread of illness in the office but these few steps above can have a significant impact and are all practical and inexpensive. So if you haven’t already done so, take the time to evaluate how and what your office is doing to contribute to the health and wellness of its occupants. Update your health and safety manual to account for cleaning and response to viruses in the office. If you do not have a manual make one. Ensure to include an adequate cleaning schedule for all areas of the office to coincide with the level of traffic through your office. For offices such as co-working spaces with high traffic of users on a daily basis, daily cleaning and regularly scheduled deep cleaning is important. The spread of Covid-19 is truly an unprecedented time for our generation but with the proper steps, we can learn from this situation and move forward positively!

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