Health & Safety

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Workstation Hygiene

22 January 2011

Computer keyboards can harbour more harmful bacteria than a toilet seat, research has suggested.

hand on computer mouse

Consumer group “Which?” said tests at its London offices in January 2008, found equipment carrying bugs that could cause food poisoning. Out of 33 keyboards swabbed, four were regarded as a potential health hazard and one harboured five times more germs than one of the office's toilet seats.

The equipment was swabbed for bugs, such as those that can cause food poisoning like E.coli and staphylococcus aureus.

Microbiologist Dr Peter Wilson said a keyboard was often “a reflection of what is in your nose and in your gut”, and that people sharing a keyboard could be passing on illnesses among office workers. “Should somebody have a cold in your office, or even have gastroenteritis, you're very likely to pick it up from a keyboard.”

”Which?” said one of the causes of dirty keyboards was users eating lunch at their desk, with crumbs encouraging the growth of bacteria. Food spills, such as tea and biscuits, can support mini eco-systems, but cleaning of keyboards and phones is not always given high priority.

Poor personal hygiene, such as not washing hands after going to the toilet, could also be to blame, it said.

Research by the University of Arizona in 2007 found that, compared to men, on average women have three to four times the amount of germs in, on and around their work area. They also found that where office workers who were told to clean their desks with disinfecting wipes, bacterial levels were reduced by 99%.

British microbiologist Professor Sally Bloomfield said the study reinforced the need for good hygiene practice both at work and in the home. She said: "The superhighways for bacteria are hands and the surfaces we touch. Viruses are transferred by our hands, especially cold viruses." She said it was impossible to turn our surroundings into sterile zones, but we can minimise the risk by washing our hands regularly and using alcoholic wipes on office furniture like phones and keyboards.

Cleaning techniques

  • Dust and food crumbs should be shaken out of keyboards.
  • They should be wiped with a soft, lightly dampened, lint-free cloth.
  • They should also be disinfected with alcohol wipes.

Ultrasonic Cleaning used to Deep Clean Workstations

Ultrasonic cleaning is a process used to purge hospitals of superbugs, it can even be used on your office keyboard. Soap, water and old-fashioned elbow grease are how we used to get hospitals clean, now, the buzzword is "deep cleaning".

In an era of hot desking, workstations have a hard life, so office bosses are among the latest converts to deep cleaning. They're used every day, often by different people, so keyboards, mice and other equipment become breeding grounds for bacteria. Ultrasonic cleaning works by transmitting ultra-high frequency sound through heated tap water, which contains special detergents. This causes microscopic bubbles to form in every crevice of the submersed piece of equipment. The bubbles collapse almost immediately and these thousands of implosions per second result in the deep-cleaning action.

The equipment is dipped several times for up to 10 seconds. A heated blow gun is used to take off excess water and the equipment is then placed in a special drying oven.

”Environmentally Friendly'”

Despite water being involved in the process almost anything can be ultrasonically cleaned, from televisions and computers to toys and wedding dresses. Only materials such as paper and wood, which swell in water, are beyond the ultrasonic range. "It really is amazing technology," says Stephen Yendley, director of Ultrasonic Machines UK Ltd. "Almost anything can be cleaned this way and it is environmentally friendly," he claims. "It uses tap water with only two chemicals added and sound waves. The water doesn't need any specialist treatment after the cleaning has been done, it can just go down the drain."