A bacterial colony is a cluster of invisible to the naked eye single-celled organisms. Also known as microbial colonies, a large accumulation of these organisms can make them visible to the naked eye. What does this have to do with the workplace, the disgusting workplace? Well, let’s take a look and see why your place of employment might seem like a petri dish.
If you have worked in an office, especially an open plan office, you’ll notice that one person hacking, wheezing and coughing is the precursor to an office-wide pandemic. The bacteria or virus that infected the (inconsiderate) Patient Zero (I mean, just stay home!) will in turn infect even the most extreme germaphobic person in the office. You know, that guy/gal who constantly and impulsively wipes everything down with antibacterial wipes and has a bandoleer across his/her chest filled with travel-sized hand-sanitizing gel. You could take thousands of milligrams of vitamin C, eat tons of vegetables and exercise regularly, but the snot train is going to inevitably stop at your station at some point.
Like a Zombie Movie, But Extremer
So we all know the zombie TV show trope where even the smallest scratch is approached with more apprehension than a conspiracy theorist approaches a government official (because they may or may not be a subterranean lizard humanoid). Well, what if I told you that you should approach every single surface in your office in the exact same way? Why, you ask, as you put your hazmat suit and breathing apparatus on, because some of the dirtiest things in the office are the things you touch constantly. According to this Times article, bio-hazardous surfaces include pretty much everything in the break room (such as faucets, microwave door handles, refrigerator handles, water fountain/cooler buttons, and coffee pots) to keyboards, computer mice (and other rodent-related computer peripherals), and desk phones. You’re really looking at hand sanitizer-bandoleer guy in a different light now, aren’t you?
Ah, Fresh Air!
Just because I love to make people uncomfortably shift in their seats, let me also tell you that during your 8/9/10 hours at the office, you could be exposed to a cocktail of toxins, but not from surfaces – from the air.
Most offices lack adequate ventilation, resulting in the air to be a diverse biosphere of micro-flora and fauna, which sounds cool but it’s really not. This mini zoo that you inhale every six times a minute includes mold, mildew and bacteria [snickers], and that’s not even the worst of it. It can also contain animal or insect droppings, dust (duh), dander (which is a hellish slurry of dead skin cells and the mites that eat them), and even carcinogens from commonly used office equipment (copy machines and printers). Actually, now that I think about it, do you have any extra hazmat suits I could borrow?
No, this isn’t a character in Pixar’s newest film about anthropomorphized inanimate objects, House Infirmary, but a widely spread phenomenon that affects office workers. The symptoms include headaches and dizziness, skin irritation, fatigue, nausea, chest tightness, blocked and runny noses, and poor concentration. The factors that cause these symptoms are even more, including inadequate lighting, noise pollution, poor ventilation, extreme fluctuations in temperature (from that one person that constantly turns off the air condition; every office has one), and even a poor workstation setup can be a contributing factor. The diagnosis is simple: if you’re at work and you experience symptoms but when you leave they become alleviated, then you might be suffering from sick building syndrome. As if there weren’t enough reasons to hate work.
400 Times Dirtier
So now you have the dirt on the filth that surrounds you, but I found another little tidbit of scum to show you… Your desk is potentially 400 times dirtier than the average toilet seat, says University of Arizona microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba, as reported in EHS Today. But bacterial levels do not stay stable and instead increase from 19% to 30% throughout the workday. And just because my foray into horror-inducing is even close to finishing, I’d also like to let you know that two of the bacteria found by Dr. Gerba happened to of the antibiotic-resistant type. Just because I don’t like presenting problems without giving solutions, here’s how to protect yourself.
Where Do They Come From?
Before you start running around with a flamethrower, I’d like to let you know that you are the primary source, you filthy animal. If you think that humans outgrow their sticky-handed dirty habits at a post-adolescent age, you’d be grossly (get it, gross?) mistaken.
First off, if you’re one of the disgustingly under 50% of people that don’t wash their hands after using the restroom, stop, because that’s where most bacteria originates: in the moist, soft crevices of your… um, crevices. Then Mr./Mrs. I-Touch-My-Bum-But-Don’t-Wash needs cash, so they go the ATM, leaving a bit of their bacteria there, and then they get a taxi to the office where they open the door. Then you, Mr. I-Wash-and-Think-That’s-Enough gets money for lunch, opens the door and goes into the office, gets a ride to a restaurant for lunch, and then puts food into their mouth. Congratulations! You just went from Mr. I-Wash-and-Think-That’s-Enough to Mr. I’ve-Got-a-Stomach-Bug-But-Thought-It-Was-the-Burrito-I-Had-for-Lunch.
But you actually got it from the taxicab’s door handle. Then you go back to the office with your new, unwanted collection of antibiotic-resistant bugs and proceed to use your computer, phone and give a congratulatory pat on the back to a coworker. Boom! Now you have a sexual harassment case on your hands and contaminated that coworker who reported you to HR because of your inappropriate back-patting. It’s a vicious cycle I’m telling you.
Stomach Bug Is the Best Case Scenario
According to a Today article by journalist Matt Lauer, beyond the expected fecal matter, bacteria and viruses found on and in a taxi, you can even potentially contract horrifying you-have-to-have-sex-or-exchange-bodily-fluids-normally-to-contract viruses such as Hepatitis A and, I quote, “Candida albicans, probably vaginal in origin” – found on an escalator. Because the only thing you want to do after an orgasm is ride an escalator, right?
Stress and the Immune System
So to compound all my fear mongering is the fact that stress suppresses the immune system. It’s an evolutionary runoff in which our ancestors would suppress all nonessential bodily functions not pertinent to survival during a “fight or flight” scenario. Stress today though has nothing to do with being chased down by a horny wooly mammoth that you inadvertently interrupted while looking for edible twigs, but the body doesn’t know that. Being that the brain can distinguish between a screaming boss with veins popping out his temple, while creating a torrential spray of spittle or an understandably frustrated mammoth with a boner barreling towards you, it follows like the same protocol of expanding the oxygen-absorbing capacity of the lungs, increasing blood flow to the brain to help perception, and suppressing the immune system. Now combine a compromised immune system with a filthy office, and you have the ingredients for a miserable, snot-filled weekend!
Is there anything you would like to add to this article? Well, let me know in the comments section below!