Is Your Job Germy?

Did you know that the average toilet seat is 400 times cleaner than your desk? Or that there are over 10 million germs on the average desktop?

But how can that be, when either you or someone else is cleaning your desk every day?

For starters, workers who diligently wipe down their desktops are essentially just giving germs a free ride, says Dr. Charles Gerba -- aka "Dr. Germ -- a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, who conducted a study on germs in the workplace. Instead, you have to kill them on the spot using a disinfectant or sanitizer.

Workers are also spending more time at their desks. According to a recent survey by the American Dietician Association, 57 percent of workers snack at their desks at least once a day. More than 75 percent of workers "only occasionally" clean their desks before eating and 20 percent never do.

"As people spend more time at their desks, germs find plenty to snack on," Gerba says. "Desks are really bacteria cafeterias. They're breakfast buffets, lunch tables and snack bars, as we spend more and more hours at the office."

Your desk isn't the only thing harboring germs. Essentially, your entire office is a petrie dish of viruses, bacteria and other germs. Your phone, mouthpiece, keyboard, light switches, buttons on the elevator, door handles, right down to the papers you drop off for approval at your boss's desk -- each of these things is loaded with countless microbes that you come in contact with every day. In one study, Dr. Gerba and his researchers found that an infected person can leave a trail of viruses on every surface he touches -- and viruses can survive on surfaces for up to three days.

For his study, Gerba and his team collected samples from private offices and cubicles in Tucson, Ariz., and Washington, D.C. The study, funded by The Clorox Company, tested more than 616 surfaces in the office and deduced which harbored the most germs. Then, they studied the surfaces of different professions to determine which were the "germiest."

Here are nine of the germiest jobs, in order from most to least germy, and how they stacked up to each other.

1. Teacher

Average amount of bacteria per square inch: 17,800

Why it's germy: Kids' desktops are probably the dirtiest object in a classroom. Additionally, when children turn in tests and assignments, they hand in germs, too. Teachers had five-and-a-half times more germs on their phones, nearly twice as many germs on their computer mice and nearly 27 times more germs on the computer keys than other professions studied in a survey done by researchers at the University of Arizona.

Salary*: $44,137/year

2. Accountant

Average amount of bacteria per square inch: 6,030

Why it's germy: Accountants tend to spend a great deal of time behind their desks, which as previously mentioned often retain the most germs. Accountants' desks and pens ranked No. 1 in the study as most germy, averaging 12,600 and 2,350 bacteria per square inch, respectively.

Salary: $46,171/year

3. Banker

Average amount of bacteria per square inch: 5,400

Why it's germy: Everyone knows how dirty money is. When you think about the one core duty of bankers -- handling money -- it's no surprise the germs bankers come in contact with. Surfaces used by bankers came in third behind teachers and accountants as having the most bacteria. Compared to other professions, however, bankers had the least germy computer keyboards.

Salary: $22,099/year (as a bank teller)

4. Radio DJ

Average amount of bacteria per square inch: 3,323

Why it's germy: Radio DJs often work in shifts, with several people coming in and out of the station a day. It's doubtful that each of these people disinfects every button, switch, control and headset in between their shift and the next person's. As we said before, an infected person can leave a trail of viruses on every surface he touches -- so many people using the same equipment is bound to garner a lot of bacteria.

Salary: $42,707/year

5. Doctor

Average amount of bacteria per square inch: 2,620

Why it's germy: As professionals who serve sick people, it's no surprise doctors are their own source of germs. Likely culprits for carrying germs are the medical charts that switch so many hands each day, which is why many health care facilities are pushing for electronic medical records.

Salary: $123,147/year

6. Television producer

Average amount of bacteria per square inch: 2,460

Why it's germy: Television producers tend to spend their days overseeing writers, directors and editors, while also conducting meetings and editing TV segments. All of these responsibilities add up to lots of physical contact with humans and items that cart around germs. In Gerba's study, TV producers had the least germy computer mice, averaging only 375 bacteria per square inch.

Salary: $65,930/year

7. Consultant

Average amount of bacteria per square inch: 1,250

Why it's germy: Consultants work in a variety of work environments but most share the common goal of defining problems and providing solutions for companies. To do so, they need to conduct various research including studies and surveys, plus performing interviews. The problem is, as a consultant, you work with so many companies and in so many offices, you never really know the environment you're working in -- or what kinds of germs you're coming in contact with.

Salary: $152,423/year

8. Publicist

Average amount of bacteria per square inch: 1,020

Why it's germy: Publicists have multiple clients with whom they keep in contact every day. As a result, they spend most of their time at their desks, communicating via telephone and on the computer -- the top three places that harbor the most germs. Surprisingly, out of all the occupations, publicists had the least germy telephones.

Salary**: $49,800/year

9. Lawyer

Average amount of bacteria per square inch: 900

Why it's germy: Though many people picture lawyers as sitting behind their desks all day, lawyers had the least germy desks, averaging just 263 bacteria per
square inch. This is probably because lawyers tend to be everywhere but their desks; instead, they spend their times in courtrooms, jails, interrogation rooms and other germ-infested environments. Plus, they probably shake a lot of hands.

Salary: $90,414/year

*U.S. national average salaries according to

** According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Copyright 2009


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