hygiene and dirty smart phones

The real dirt on dirty cell phones

Quick. Think of something ten times more germ-infested than a toilet seat. If the first thing that popped to mind wasn’t that cell phone in your hand, then you obviously haven’t read some fairly shocking research from both the US and Europe.

In a study at the University of Arizona, microbiologists discovered that the average cellphone has up to ten times more germs on it than the average toilet seat. This poses a special risk, as cellphones typically get cleaned less and shared more than other germ-prone objects. It’s also a significant risk, as a European report revealed that 38.5% of cell phones studied carry viruses (not the software kind) that can cause lung infections and stomach problems.

This is an issue in homes, in public, and notably in offices, where those same Arizona researchers found that a single infected employee can spread a virus to half of their co-workers in as little as four hours. Given the fact that employees spend an average of 56 minutes a day at work on their cell phones, offices need to address the health implications of all those handheld “viral devices.” Here are two simple, yet essential, steps every office should take.

One: Hand hygiene education and communication

Despite the research, many people still are not aware of how dirty their cell phones (and hands) really are. Educating employees is an essential first step, and should be included in routine employee training and communications, from onboarding to regular newsletters. One global hygiene and health company even provides a free program for creating custom posters to keep the message fresh and top of mind.

Two: Hand hygiene supplies

Putting information in employees’ heads is a great start – but putting solutions in their hands is even better. So while your clever restroom posters should remind of the need to wash hands, your bathroom supplies should be the ones they’re most likely to use (for example, the majority of American’s prefer to dry their hands on paper towels). And it’s easy to equip employees beyond the bathroom, by placing hand sanitizer in common areas, lunchrooms and on every desk.

So, remember: every time an employee picks up a phone, there’s a better than one in three chance they’re also picking up rotavirus, metapneumovirus, or other highly communicable diseases. But when you understand – and prepare for – the real dirt on cell phones, you can better protect your employees’ health and your office’s productivity.

PBS: How Quickly Do Germs Spread in the Office?
Business Daily: How Much Time Are Your Employees Wasting on Their Phones?
ZDnet: Mobile Phones Deliver Infection Risk in the Workplace
University of Arizona: Why Your Cellphone Has More Germs Than a Toilet