How Dirty Is Your QWERTY?

Whether you work at home or in an office, it’s a pretty safe bet that at some point in your working day you will use a computer keyboard. In fact, pretty much every desk in every office has one. But do you know how often yours is actually cleaned?  

A rather alarming piece of research conducted by Which magazine revealed that your office toilet seat is likely to have five times fewer germs than your keyboard! Consider the ratio of computer keyboards in the average small business environment to toilet seats and that’s a simply frightening statistic. And it’s not just the desk-lunch and coffee break crumbs you might expect to find beneath the keys; MRSA and MSSA have also been found lurking there.

In addition to these nasties and other bugs linked to food poisoning, enteric bacteria and coliforms were found; both of which are usually associated with fecal matter and poor hand hygiene.

What causes a dirty QWERTY?

So, what’s responsible for such an accumulation of bacteria on your keyboard? It’s no real surprise that the main guilty party is poor hand hygiene; that is, not washing your hands properly (or at all) following a visit to the office bathroom. Runner up is the unhealthy habit of a rushed lunch at your desk; all those crumbs trapped under the keys make a wonderful environment in which bacteria flourishes. In third place comes dust; it traps moisture, sweat and dead skin, all of which provide a tasty treat for germs.

Health risks to staff

By far the most dangerous and unpleasant bacterium is staphylococcus; or MRSA as it’s more commonly known. This little nasty finds its way into your body via broken skin and once it’s loose in your bloodstream can cause blood poisoning, pneumonia and other very serious complications. Unfortunately, the MRSA superbug has become phenomenally resistant to most antibiotics and it’s this that makes it very dangerous.

E.Coli is another potentially fatal bug that has been discovered on keyboards. This bacterium is usually associated with faeces and is a common cause of serious stomach problems and urinary tract infections in conjunction with enteric bacteria.

Hot-desking headache

These days where part-time, job-share or shift positions are more commonplace than ever, many offices operate a hot-desking policy. This can mean that large numbers of staff share keyboards so it’s hardly surprising that sickness often spreads quickly, having a serious impact on production and profits.

Take action

QWERTY tummy outbreaks are easily preventable by introducing and implementing a few common sense measures.

  1. Insist that staff do not eat at their desks. A keyboard-free zone should be set aside for workers to use during coffee and lunch breaks. This will prevent contamination of keyboards with sticky fingers and bits of food debris.
  2. Prominently displayed signage should be used to instruct staff to wash their hands before and after bathroom visits and likewise when handling food.
  3. Bacteria are very sensitive to UV rays, so if possible leave your keyboard in direct sunlight whenever you can.
  4. Set aside 15 minutes every week to clean your keyboard; diarise it so that you don’t forget. Place the keyboard upside down and give it a gentle tap to get rid of any bits of food, dust and fluff then blast out stubborn debris using a compressed air pen. Wipe the keyboard thoroughly using an alcohol wipe which you can obtain from your stationery supplier.
  5. If your office environment is especially dirty or dusty; a factory or garage for example, use washable or waterproof keyboards. These are slightly more costly than the standard ones but are infinitely easier to clean and are less prone to damage.

So, next time you’re considering your staff absence stats, remember the humble and innocent-looking keyboard. Could it be that this is the smoking gun that’s the cause of all the stomach upsets that afflict your staff and the consequent lost man-hours that blight your business?