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How quickly can a virus spread in an office?

Germs on a door handle

A large portion of the working population work in offices where the spread of bacteria and viruses is actually far more likely. With more people in close proximity, surfaces and equipment that are touched by more people, and heating and ventilation systems that may not purify the air, we might be more likely to become unwell in an office environment. 

As much as we may try to keep our distance, keeping out of immediate contact with people who are unwell at work might not be enough to stop the spread of viruses.

How quickly can a virus spread around an office?

One of the main problems in offices is surfaces and equipment that are touched by numerous people. It will depend on the kind of surface, but bacteria can last anywhere from a couple of hours to 3 days on surfaces. Bacteria that land on surfaces will last longer than airborne bacteria. 

An interesting study conducted back in 2014 and presented by Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona, found that in various workplaces, the bacteria contamination of 1 doorknob could spread across a whole business. Within 2 to 4 hours, the virus could be detected on 40-60% of workers and visitors in the facilities and commonly touched objects.

What we really learned is that the hand is quicker than a sneeze in the spread of disease

Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona

Possible surfaces that might harbour germs; 

  • Fridge doors, 
  • Door knobs/handles, 
  • Taps, 
  • Toaster, microwaves, or coffee pots/kettles
  • Incorrectly washed food utensils, 
  • Not to mention all the things on your desk
  • And of course, there are your hands,
  • As well as many others…

However, Gerba also said that the use of surface disinfectant wipes (with quaternary ammonium compounds) and good hand hygiene, reduced the virus spread by 80-99%. 

Best practice to prevent the spread of viruses at work

It’s important to remember that not all germs are bad for us. It’s true that some germs can help strengthen our immune system, however, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t practice good hygiene at work to stop the spread of bacteria. Always remember that you have an important role in preventing the spread of infection because it’s possible for you to both spread any pathogens you have, and for you to carry pathogens from one host to another.

While there is no 100% proven way of defending yourself against viruses and bacteria, here are just some of the good hygiene tips you should practice at work (and at home!):

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve - not your hands - when you cough or sneeze, and then put any used tissues in the bin straight away
  • Avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • Keep your fingernails short
  • Keep clothes and protective equipment clean by washing them regularly. Putting clothing on a hot wash, hot ironing them or tumble-drying them should kill any bacteria present
  • Keep your work and home environment clean, especially frequently touched objects and surfaces such as phones, keyboards, door handles, light switches and tabletops
  • Get rid of waste regularly, for example by picking up rubbish and emptying bins.
  • Take particular care to throw away used tissues, sanitary waste and medical waste correctly and immediately
  • Bacteria can build up on cloths and re-used towels, so always use single-use disposable towels or hand-dryers if they’re available, to avoid spreading bacteria
  • If you have cold or flu symptoms, an upset stomach or skin infections you should speak with your manager before reporting for work.
  • Cover all cuts with waterproof dressings as the number of pathogens increases when skin is damaged
  • And finally, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds – using hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available. Check out our blog for our step by step for effective handwashing

Working from home

If there is an outbreak of illness in your workplace that is contagious, then it might be a good idea to encourage staff to work from home where possible to stop the spread of infection. If you have a vomiting or diarrhoea illness, the NHS advises that you should ‘Stay off school or work until you have not been sick or had diarrhoea for at least 2 days.

As for advice surrounding the Coronavirus and working from home, if there is a chance you may have Coronavirus (you have travelled to high-risk areas or are experiencing symptoms) you might be asked to self isolate and work from home for 14 days. Use the NHS 111 service to find out whether you need to self-isolate or not. This means staying at home, making use of delivery services, not going to work or other public areas, not using public transport and avoid having visitors at home. The BBC provide advice about sick pay during this period. 

Coronavirus Awareness Video

Unfortunately, we can’t escape the news about Coronavirus at the moment. This infectious disease can spread from person to person and affects your lungs and airways. Visit our ‘Providing information to reduce sickness and absence’ blog to find out more about what to do if you have travelled recently and are experiencing symptoms, general advice for travellers, how Coronavirus is being handled in the UK and the treatment for Coronavirus. Or you can use this video for all levels of staff to raise awareness about Coronavirus and provide practical advice about what it is, reducing the risk of spreading it and what to do if you are showing symptoms. 

Infection Prevention & Control Training

As well as the above free resource, we also offer an Infection Prevention & Control Training course to help employers provide employees with information surrounding the risks of infections, how to stay safe at work and how to keep themselves and those around them safe and healthy. Our course is broken down into 5 easy sections; Infections in the workplace, the chain of infection, best hygiene practices, common infections and the responsibilities of certain aspects of health and safety. 

Infection Prevention & Control
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