The common cold can spread through an office like wildfire. First one employee comes in with the sniffles and soon dozens are out sick. The culprits are often viruses that are spread from one hand to the next via frequently touched objects, such as light switches and coffeepots.

“In our studies, we found if we put a racer virus on the doorknob of an office building, we can detect it on 50 percent of the people’s hands that work in the office and half of the surfaces they commonly touch,” says Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona. “People who come to work with the cold virus spread it around.”

Workplace illnesses are more than just a nuisance. In some cases, such as with a highly contagious norovirus, an infection can completely shut an office down. Reduced productivity due to absenteeism and “presenteeism” (when employees come to work sick) costs the U.S. economy $227 billion each year, according to a 2012 study by The Integrated Benefits Institute, a health research organization in San Francisco, California.

While some of the losses are the result of non-communicable disease or people playing hooky, a large portion of absences are due to community-acquired infections — respiratory and gastrointestinal bugs passed around an office thanks to inadequately cleaned surfaces or chronic air-quality problems caused by mold or other microorganisms.

“Using best cleaning practices helps control the spread of infections and has a positive impact on the health of the building occupants,” says Keith Sopha, president of the Canadian Association of Environmental Management and founder of CleanLearning in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. “It’s just good business.”

In fact, Gerba’s studies show that proper cleaning can reduce occupants’ exposure to contagious viruses by 80 to 90 percent. Another study finds appropriate cleaning can result in a 5 percent productivity gain, which amounts to $11 billion nationwide.

“Distributors should care about absenteeism and presenteeism because they are in a unique position to help minimize the problems,” says Skip Seal, CEO of Seal 360 in Fort Myers, Florida. “Distributors can be a primary source of products and training, which also helps build relationships with their customers.”

next page of this article:
Limiting Workplace Illness Is A Cost Savings