Now that flu season is upon us, with it comes endless occurrences of coughs, sniffles, sneezes and cries of sickly frustration often heard resonating feverishly throughout the office. These exasperating episodes by ailing employees during the colder months of fall and winter can be reduced or even eliminated simply by properly maintaining and cleaning office surfaces and equipment, including the water cooler. And, water treatment dealers play an important role in educating customers; furthermore, when applied correctly, dealers can also gain a competitive sales and marketing edge with this information.
Water coolers are regularly found in many workplaces. However, water coolers are also commonly a location where cross contamination can occur and harmful germs and bacteria may thrive, increasing the chances of employees becoming sick and ultimately missing work.
Water coolers should be cleaned at least once per year, according to experts we have interviewed for previous articles, keeping in mind the type of environment where the system is located as well as any local code requirements. When cleaning water coolers, follow the specific instructions set by equipment manufacturers as the type, model and material of the equipment will help determine not only how often the cooler should be cleaned, but also specific cleaning instructions that should be followed for optimal results. However, in any case, it is crucial to have an outline featuring a set cleaning schedule as well as maintenance/cleaning records on or around the water cooler to ensure the system is being properly cleaned and maintained at all times.
In general, common cleaning products used for water coolers include: Antibacterial soap/dishwashing detergent, unscented household bleach (Sodium hypochlorite), a designated wash area with a bucket or bottle, filtered or bottled water for rinsing and filling, an antibacterial sponge and citric acid crystals.
“All water contact surface areas [around the water cooler] must be cleaned and/or [treated with] a sanitizing solution,” advises Oasis International Senior Vice President of Sales Robin Householder. “This includes tanks, baffles, no-spill devices, floats, lid assemblies, tubing, faucets and fittings.”
Remember, when cleaning on and/or around the water cooler, personal protection, such as gloves and safety goggles, should also be considered while keeping areas around the cooler dry to avoid potential slips and falls.
Reducing flu outbreaks
In addition to following a set cleaning schedule, dealers can advise their customers to reduce chances of employees catching the work-hindering flu by following these suggested steps:
- Hand-washing is believed by many to be the number one defense against cross contamination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends strict guidelines for proper hand-washing, featuring the following information: Wash your hands frequently throughout the day, especially before and after certain activities where you may come in contact with germs, bacteria and other contaminants. When washing your hands, wet them with clean, running water, turn off the tap and then apply soap — lathering your hands by rubbing them together, making sure to get under your nails, between your fingers and rub soap on the back of your hands. Once lathered, scrub hands for at least 20 seconds — you can hum the “Happy Birthday” song from start to end twice, for a good estimate of time. Rinse hands and either use a clean towel or air dry.
- Health/safety signs around the office and water cooler, including one highlighting the correct way to wash your hands, are also great for encouraging good office hygiene.
- Business owners should urge everyone in the office to stay home when they are sick. The flu is very contagious and easily transmittable. It only takes one person to infect an entire office.
- Keeping hand sanitizer around the water cooler and also at your desk is a good extra step on top of frequently washing your hands.
- Clean and sanitize water coolers and surrounding areas prior and during the flu season, in addition to times allotted within the cleaning schedule already in place. Any area that water comes in contact with should be cleaned.
The latest in prevention
Many water coolers in today’s market offer innovative features intended to alleviate internal and external contamination. Some systems include self-cleaning equipment, containing built-in sanitizing devices that commonly implement ultraviolet (UV) and ozone technologies; and, various manufacturers are also integrating antimicrobial agents, or silver-based technology, within materials used to construct water coolers to help inhibit microbial growth on surfaces. Other modern technologies include: Hands-free technologies, recessed dispensers, controls that are easier to clean and enclosed units.
Taking the right precautions and properly cleaning and sanitizing common office areas like around the water cooler, can help keep everyone healthy, happy and free from any sickly upsurges of sniffles, sneezes, aches and coughs during this the upcoming flu season.