Working from home is the new norm for the desk-bound warrior. But if you have to enter the proverbial battleground – aka the office – you have to be geared for germ warfare. And that goes beyond mask wearing, safe distancing and hand washing.
Contamination on surfaces touched by colleagues and visitors is one of the main ways that COVID-19 spreads in the workplace, according to the World Health Organization.
“COVID-19 is transmitted through respiratory droplets, which when picked up by the hands and go on to touch the face, eyes, nose or mouth, can enter the body,” said Anthony Herrera, the lead chemist at Ecolab Southeast Asia.
Even during the SARS epidemic from 2002 to 2004, contact with high-touch areas such as the keyboard and desk was already the common cause of people getting that particular virus, said Johnson Zhuo, the managing director of local cleaning company Dream Sparkle. He had worked as a paramedic during that time.
So it doesn’t hurt to be responsible for your own work space, even though your company may have used – or are hiring – professional cleaners to clean and disinfect the office. Here’s how to COVID-19-proof your desk – or at least minimise your risk of getting infected at work.
WHAT AREAS ARE COVERED BY THE PROS?
According to Zhuo, professional cleaners would cover common high-touch areas such as the floor, door knobs, toilets, desks, PCs, remote controllers, monitors, keyboards and telephones. These areas and items will be wiped down using sodium chlorite or other active ingredients approved by the National Environment Agency.
Then, a mist of disinfecting solution is sprayed, which can continue to deactivate germs for a period of time after it has dried off. How long the office will stay protected depends on the solution used as well as the traffic the area receives, said Zhuo.
The misting can leave surfaces considerably wet, so it’s a good idea to keep non-water-resistant items off your desk or open shelves. “Documents, memo labels, stick-ons, name cards and calendars that are left on the desk would be soaked, so we advise keeping these items away,” he said.
If the disinfecting was carried out while you were out of the office, it might be a good idea to throw out the sprayed items if they’re not important, he advised. The same goes for the opened tissue box left on your desk during the circuit breaker.
“If you need to touch those documents or items, remember to wash your hands or sanitise after doing so,” advised Zhuo.
WHY SHOULD YOU CLEAN AGAIN AFTER THE PROS?
It doesn’t mean the job is done after the professionals have left the building. Here’s why: Although “cleaning,” “sanitising” and “disinfecting” are often used interchangeably, Herrera said they actually describe distinct processes and results:
- Cleaning: Removes soil/dirt from a surface but does not kill any organisms.
- Sanitising: Reduces the number of bacteria in the environment significantly.
- Disinfecting: Destroys or irreversibly inactivates bacteria and viruses.
The pros would take care of the micro-organisms but not always the dust, dirt, stains and food remnants. Yes, the cleaning auntie can help you but no one knows where the last coffee spill was or where the keropok crumbs are hiding better than you.
As for what to use, antibacterial wipes with 70 per cent alcohol or chlorine is great at killing germs. The caveat: They may corrode or tarnish electronic devices as well as dry skin with prolonged use. Instead, Zhuo recommended cleaning solutions that contain potassium hydroxide as they are “milder on your skin and not known to damage or tarnish the office equipment”.
HOW TO HAVE A GERM-FREE DAY IN THE OFFICE
Before even switching on your computer to start your work day, Zhuo recommended wiping down the following:
- Start button of your computer/laptop
- Office phone
- Chair’s armrests and top of the seat’s backing where you usually grab to move the chair
- Pedestal’s surface and handles
- Stationery, especially those that colleagues are likely to borrow, such as stapler, correction fluid and pens
Pay attention to areas that come into frequent contact with your hands, mouth and nose such as the telephone, keyboard and computer mouse, said Zhuo. For such items, it is advisable to wipe with a disinfectant at least three times a day: At the start of the day, midday and before you get off work.
As for your office mug, Zhuo suggested microwaving it empty for less than a minute on high after a good wash to get rid of any micro-organisms. But before that, you can “disinfect” the microwave oven by letting it run for less than a minute, also on high, to zap any germs lurking inside.
The pantry sponge provides an ideal wet environment for rapid bacterial and viral growth. Zhuo suggested changing it every three to four weeks. In between fresh sponges, you can zap 99.9 per cent of germs by saturating the sponge with water and microwaving it on high for a minute, according to goodhousekeeping.com.