Is your Keyboard making you Sick?

dirty-keyboard 2Generally, office environments can be the cleanest area of any business. After all, any kind of pollution found in the air of factories, delivery yards, and car parks would – you would think – be stopped at the door. However, new research from Health and Safety experts shows that office environments have their own health risks, and your computer keyboard could be to blame.

Illness-causing bacteria easily live on commonly touched work surfaces such as keyboards, computer mice and office phones, and the average shared desk is a prime breeding ground for infection. In fact an average keyboard can have 200 times more bacteria than a toilet brush!

The Reality of the Shared Office.

In today’s business world, open-space offices are more likely to be shared. Part-time staff often make up a high percentage of most offices, and they all share their desk environment. You could say that everyone in a working environment is sharing each other’s home and travel environment, complete with all of the bacteria and illness that total strangers are sharing.

Many workers that spend different times of day in the administrative work-space also bring food with them, and many more forego a lunch-break to eat at their desk, making keyboards a breeding ground for bacteria.  While washing your hands between ‘the outside world’ and the closed office area would no doubt help – and has become automatic for many workers – this doesn’t protect against droplets of saliva that inevitably fall on the keyboard during talking, sneezing, and coughing.

A recent study analysed swabs obtained from the keyboards of 30 computers and found microbes on all keyboards, examples of mould, yeast, bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, Micrococcus and Enterococcus. In fact, past studies have found more than 3,000 organisms per square inch on a keyboard, and more than 1,600 on a computer mouse.

When did you last Clean Up?

You can still protect yourself in a shared environment very easily, so try to perform the following tasks on an ongoing basis – we can attest to the fact that they work:

When you first start work, clean and disinfect your desk area, including phone, calculators, and especially your keyboard. You can use swabs or Q-Tips to do this. In fact, bring some cleaning materials with you as a ‘gift’ to the whole office.

Use Compressed Air to blow out any crumbs and germs that are hiding throughout the keyboard – in fact, give all grilles, ports and spaces a blast too, it will help your computer run better.

Turn your keyboard upside down, and lightly shake it to dislodge even more debris.

When you enter the office, or return from a break, wash your hands to protect yourself from others’ dirt that has been rubbed against you, and never eat at your desk.

You can also give everything a quick rub down and clean when you take extended time from the office: A few days, or vacation, to make it clean for others.

Perhaps the easiest way to ensure a clean area is to purchase a keyboard cover to cover the board when it isn’t being used by you. This can help protect against passer-by’s sneezes, coughs, and coffee spills. Many high-end keyboards come with their own dust covers, and they aren’t provided to help during initial delivery – they are for everyday use.

Finally, if you move around a lot, consider buying your own keyboard with a USB connection that can be used on any computer. Not only will this guarantee that you are only using your own equipment, it gives you the opportunity to buy one that fits your own typing style, and ergonomic requirements to make your working time more comfortable. This way you can ensure that your working time is not only clean it’s also comfortable, less stressful and more productive.

Is it Time to ‘Switch’ your Keyboard?

Truly_Ergonomic_Mechanical_Keyboard-227The more that you investigate about keyboards, in order to find the ‘perfect one for you’, the more detailed info ration you will find. Pretty early on in this process, it will become obvious to you that a keyboard’s keys, and the mechanisms below them, tucked out of site of the users, are the most important components that you will need to learn more about. The real job is learning about the switches below those keys.

The Finger points

After all, these are the points that your body actually touches any keyboard. Your fingers are the conduits that your brain signals communicate through. It doesn’t matter if you write blog posts, specialist technical journals, or simple e-mails. If you are at all uncomfortable, it is your fingers that will feel it first. Any kind of pain or discomfort you feel at the contact point will soon grow into nerve pain through your palms, wrists, arms and back.

Whether or not you are investigating moving beyond the ‘off the rack’ keyboard that comes with your working or home computer, or interested on what different products are on the market, eventually you will look at the different kind of physical keys that there are on the market, and you will be faced with a decision: Do I buy Rubber-Domed or Mechanical switches?

The Rubber-Domed Switch

The vast majority of keyboards on the market today feature a Rubber or Silicon dome that sits directly under the key that you see, and connect to the ‘works’ that lie under the keyboard, and connect between action and the letter appearing in screen.

The visible part of the key is called the Key Cap. These are relatively expensive items that must deliver a long life. However, it is the switch below it that receives all of the trauma and shock of being pressed – or hit! – Repeatedly over the life of the product. A much more cost effective method is to protect this switch with a simple rubber dome that sits under the Key Cap, and suffers the repeated shock of action time and time again.

The differences in the shape and thickness of the domes that the mass producer of your keyboard uses determines the travel distance, resistance, and tactile feedback of the switch.

Being Mechanical

Mechanical key-switches are more elaborate and made in a better quality than other key-switch types.  In this system, each key has its own independent key-switch mechanism that will register when a key is pressed.

In most cases the key is actuated (the keystroke is generated, and sent to the computer) halfway through the key travel distance. For example, the key may be capable of traveling 3 mm before hitting the bottom of the key-well, but the keystroke is generated after 1.5 mm.

As there is no requirement to travel the full key travel distance when being operated,  typists enjoy the luxury of not pressing keys fully down, reducing the constant jarring action on fingertips when ‘bottoming out’ and associated unnecessary muscle action. Additionally, the constant use if these types of keys offer increasing resistance after the keystroke is generated, encouraging the user to stop pressing down the keycap and instead move on to the next keystroke. Finally, keycaps snap back to the starting position (i.e. up) more quickly than other key-switch types, facilitating faster typing speeds.

Of course, Mechanical key-switch keyboards are more expensive when initially bought, but their working life is much longer. Together with the lowered risk of injury caused by repetitive stress injury, you may want to investigate a keyboard with mechanical switches for a more pleasant working experience.

Thanks to Truly Ergonomic Ltd. for the use of a picture of their ergonomic, mechanical keyboard