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Tips: Keep the Workplace Germ-Free

Less than half of Americans clean up before eating lunch at their desks, a stark reminder that common sense hygiene habits are often lacking in the workplace, according to The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA).

The latest National Cleaning Survey from SDA reports that 46 percent of respondents claim they do not clean their desks or workspaces before eating lunch there. Women apparently take greater precautions than men: the survey found 57 percent of women say they clean their desk before eating -- while 57 percent of men surveyed say they don't.

With the shortage of flu vaccines this year, hands-on at-work hygiene practices are more important than ever, according to Brian Sansoni, SDA Vice President of Communication.

"Desks, phones, door knobs, conference tables, fax machines and other common workplace areas can be breeding grounds for bacteria-spreading germs," said Sansoni. "Of course, germs are spread hand-to-hand, but those hands touch a variety of surfaces we come in contact with every day.

"Common sense hand hygiene, surface cleaning and disinfection practices are valuable tools to help keep the workplace healthy -- especially in the midst of cold and flu season. We don't want to see poor hygiene habits lead to an absentee workforce."

Cold and Flu Costs

According to a recent Harvard University estimate, the flu's effects on the economy could approach $20 billion this year. And five to 20 percent of the population gets the flu every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A 2003 study by the University of Michigan Health System said that there are approximately half-a-billion colds in the United States each year -- costing the economy $40 billion.

Hand Hygiene Not Up to Snuff

The CDC says frequent handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. SDA's 2004 Clean Hands Report Card gave Americans a "C" for hand hygiene, based on survey results that found:

43 percent surveyed seldom or never wash their hands after coughing or sneezing.
32 percent don't always wash before eating lunch.
54 percent of respondents don't wash their hands long enough to effectively remove germs and dislodge dirt.

Coming Clean at the Office

A 2002 study conducted by University of Arizona researchers found that the workplace does indeed host its share of germs: Phones have up to 25,127 germs per square inch, keyboards 3,295 per square inch and computer mice 1,676 per square inch. Mindful of this fact, SDA offers employers and employees several tips to help keep healthy at work:

Hands-On Tips for Employees:

  • Routinely wash your hands with soap as soon as you arrive at the office and several times throughout the day, including before and after lunch, after using the restroom, and in between meetings. Wash your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds.
  • Because germs can be transmitted from virtually anything you come in contact with, keep a surface cleaner or disinfecting spray or wipes handy for daily wipe-down of the two most common items you touch each day, your desktop and telephone. Some products are designed to kill the germs that lead to cold and flu suffering --- read the product label to be sure.
  • Clean your office and restroom doorknobs regularly. Wipes are great for this task.
  • Use a disinfectant spray in your office garbage can. Has it ever been disinfected?
  • Subway, bus or train commuters should carry (and use) a hand sanitizer or antibacterial hand wipes following their commutes. This can prevent germ transmission when you stop to get your morning coffee or breakfast.
  • If you're sick, stay home!

Hands-On Tips for Employers:

  • Consider providing each of your employees (or each floor or section) with personal cleaning supplies such as wipes, sprays and disinfectants to keep their personal environments clean and healthy.
  • Post signs encouraging frequent hand washing. A 2001 SDA survey found nearly three-quarters of offices and customer service facilities do not post signs reminding their employees to wash their hands.
  • Send an office-wide e-mail encouraging hygienic activities at work and at home, to help prevent sickness for themselves and others.
  • Always ensure restrooms and kitchen areas are supplied with enough and proper cleaning products for hands and surfaces, including disinfectants and multi-surface cleaners.

2004 Flu Season Research Findings

The following questions were asked of 1013 American adults (504 men and 509 women). The independent consumer research study was completed in August 2004, on behalf of The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA), by International Communications Research (ICR). The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

Do you ever clean or wipe off your office/workplace desk before eating there? Results:

Yes (47%)
No (46%)


While nearly half of all Americans do not clean the space where they eat, there is a difference in the habits of men and women. Fifty-seven percent of men DO NOT clean there desks and 57 percent of women DO report to clean their desks before eating there.

How often do you wash your hands before eating lunch? Results:

Always (68%)
Frequently (20%)
Seldom (9%)
Never (2%)
Don?t know (1%)


You really should wash your hands before lunch, because many of the surfaces you touch -- such as keyboards, door handles, and elevator buttons -- can harbor germs that can make you sick.

Approximately how many times do you wash your hands on an average day?

1-2 times (2%)
3-4 times (12%)
5-6 times (23%)
7-10 times (24%)
More than 10 times (36%)
I don?t wash my hands (.1%)
Don?t know (2%)


When asked how often they washed their hands on an average day, there was a notable gender gap in the frequency of keeping clean. Most women who responded washed more than 10 times a day (48%), while the top number for men was 5-6 times a day (29%).

How often do you wash your hands after you cough or sneeze?

Always (23%)
Frequently (32%)
Seldom (31%)
Never (12%)
Don?t know (1%)


43 percent of Americans seldom or never wash their hands after they cough or sneeze.