Health

10 ways for support techs to stay healthy and safe on the job

As winter gives way to spring, many people are struggling into work with colds and influenza, which they may pass along to co-workers -- and to you. Here are a few simple precautions that can help you stay healthy, along with some tips for avoiding other risks when performing support tech tasks.

As winter gives way to spring, many people are struggling into work with colds and influenza, which they may pass along to co-workers -- and to you. In fact, as a deskside tech person, you could easily become infected yourself and then pass the bug on to the next user you visit. Here are a few simple precautions that can help you stay healthy, along with some tips for avoiding other risks when performing support tech tasks.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: Wipe down equipment

Many people consider a cold insufficient reason to stay off work, so they come in when they're sick. Unfortunately, they're in close contact with their desktop PCs, germs and all. When they sneeze, the screen may get spattered, and their keyboard and mouse will be contaminated through hand contact. Add some antiseptic wipes to your toolkit and make sprucing up the desktop part of your care program.

#2: Wash your hands between visits

When you have finished a job, wash your hands before you start the next one. Call in at the nearest washroom on your way to the next call and practice a clinical style of hand washing. Many infections are passed on by hand contact. Think about the last time you sneezed; did you cover your mouth with your hand? If you did and then went on to shake hands with somebody, you will have probably passed on any germs you might have. Washing your hands regularly will not only keep you from spreading germs, it will help protect you against those you may have picked up.

#3: Keep your germs at home

If you have a cold or influenza, consider staying off work. You may infect dozens of other people and you won't be performing at your best. Unfortunately, you may be at your most contagious before symptoms even show up. But it's still a good practice to stay home after your nose starts to stream and your eyes begin to itch.

#4: Don't skimp on vitamin C

Drink plenty of fresh fruit juice to keep your vitamin C levels high. Research suggests that vitamin C can help reduce the severity of symptoms and assist with recovery if you are infected.

#5: Don't run yourself down by overworking

Ensure that you have a life outside of work. A recent report in the UK stated that the biggest problem facing workers is an inability to maintain a healthy work/life balance. If you are tired, stressed, and run down, you are more susceptible to infection. Remember that you work to live; if you are living to work you might want to reconsider your priorities.

#6: Take a break

If possible, get out of the office at lunchtime and take a walk in the fresh air. It is too easy to skip the meal break and carry on working, especially if there is a lot to get done. But the people you are helping don't expect to miss their breaks, and neither should you.

#7: Encourage clean habits

Make antiseptic screen wipes available to all workers and encourage them to clean their screens regularly. They should clean the base and back of the screen as well as the display, as dust can harbour bugs as well. This won't kill viruses, but it will help remove the kind of environment they thrive in.

#8: Beware of under-the-desk crud

If you have to crawl under desks, and most of us do from time to time, you will see some nasty and disturbing sights. If your desks have back panels and the usual spaghetti of cables, that will be a great place to trap dirt, dust, fluff bunnies, and even rotting food. Yet another good reason for visiting the washroom after finishing the job.

#9: Lift with care

Remember your basic load-handling skills when moving office equipment and furniture. There will be times when you will have to move desks, cabinets, and storage units to get to wall-mounted power outlets and network points. You might need to move things only half an inch to free a trapped cable, but those jerky movements can damage your back just as easily as a big lift. If you work in the UK and your job involves lifting, you can insist on specialist training on the best way to move heavy objects. If you decide that an object is too heavy to move by yourself, get help. It may take a bit longer to complete the task, but not as long as recovering from a back injury.

#10: Protect against electrical hazards

Finally, and most obviously, watch out for those electric shocks. When you open a case or take the back off an old style CRT monitor, a substantial amount of power is still stored in some pretty meaty capacitors. They can deal the unwary techie a substantial belt. There are special tools for discharging CRT tubes. If you don't have them and aren't properly trained, leave them alone.

The same applies to power supplies. Some of them have a fuse that can be replaced to get the machine humming again, but a quick fix is not worth getting a shock for. When I was training as a PC engineer, I was told that it can take 48 hours for the charge to dissipate from a tube. So whenever I took the a screen out to fix it, I labeled it with the time and date that power was disconnected. My practice was to install a spare and leave the defective one on the shelf for at least 72 hours before taking the back off. With the ever-lowering prices of these components, is it really worth risking electrocution when a replacement PSU can be fitted for just a few pounds?

23 comments
JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...when it became appearent that on a microbiological level, keyboards and mice are possibly the most disgusting surfaces on the planet. Few things scare me more than the first days of a cross-country trip, and the fear that by the time I'm on the flight home I'm going to be sick. I wipe keyboards down, wash hands frequently, and make a consious effort not to touch my face inbetween.

dapaw
dapaw

I just overworked my self and hurt my back. I should have read this Blog earlier. Thanks for the advice.

makatlym
makatlym

This article was brilliant as i am staying in a developing country. Thank you TechRepublic

Roc Riz
Roc Riz

When my management would not purchase alcohol wipes for wiping down people's phones, that I would often use to call tech support from their desk, I had to resort to using my personal cell phone. To this day, they will not purchase alcohol wipes. It seems that I work for a bunch of Egyptians, living in de Nile. As far as electrical problems, one can ground any sources of charge (large capacitors). There is equipment to do this safely, if you must. AFAIC, ANYONE who is sick, should leave their germs at home, but again, Egyptian management feels better if people come in when ill, and deny that their illness will spread among the office, and then what do you have? A staff infection!

reisen55
reisen55

11. Do not work in hospitals. 12. Learn the language of India. You may need it. 13. STRESS IS A JOB KILLER BY THE WAY. 14. Learn to laugh more often and with people. 15. Do not laugh at people, unless in private. 16. Stairwells are quiet and tranquil. Use them. 17. Avoid Butterfingers unless stressed.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Look under a grocery checkout counter. The checkout counter has all that food going across the top, all those crevices between the belts, and all that space underneath. Residue from onion skins, flour dust, all of that will work its way underneath; every dry spill adds more. Add the occasional wet spill and you've got an ideal breeding place for just about anything. No matter how clean the rest of the store is, "what's not seen don't get clean" applies: almost nobody thinks to clean under checkout counters: I've taken to carrying a mask with me for those occasions I have to go under the counter.

magarahan
magarahan

Vitamin C is a great suggestion. I have reduced the severity of every personal incident in the last 30 years and am convinced I stopped some in the early stages by taking 1000mg every 2-3hrs at the first hint of respiratory infection. Disolving WalMart chewable 500mg tablets in the mouth allows some to be absorbed in the area of most need. I especially like the taste of their "with real orange juice" brand. But I can't help but add that now there is something incredible you can supplement with. I don't have time to educate people so I put it in an autoresponder that you are welcome to: behealthier@sendfree.com. Given the direction research is headed now, we will all be a lot healthier in 10 years. Our food is what has been weakening us, our food is what is going to strengthen us again.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

A couple of things I've encountered that are a hazard to some but could be life threatening. Loose clothing and especially neckties can easily get tangled on moving machinery. Clip on ties are advisable when working around line printers and laserjet units. Sometimes the environment you enter to provide service can be pretty tough, especially if you provide in-home service. Who knows what you'll encounter. I have one user who has a dog and he never vacuums his den, as a result the floor is about three quaters of an ich deep in dog hair. I have to wear a mask or suffer a dry cough for a week.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

avoid the cafeteria machine or the lunch truck. instead prepare something with complex carbs at home, such as apples, oranges, grapes.. and for lunch: vegetable mix, baked potatoes, hummus; add a few spices and pop in a microwavable container. I also pop a multi-vitamin and use the time-machine regularly (time released vitamin-C which as mentioned is real good for you). Buy healthy snax in bulk at your local store and keep a small stash in a cooler in your cave (office) or car: roasted peanuts, trail mix, dried fruit bars, anything healthy. I use half sized ziplock baggies for a handy sized small portion of foods. Will also save on food bills for those times you have to work late or are stuck due to a storm, snow, car breakdown, etc. these type of foods will give you energy for 4 to 5 hours without junk food that makes you fat and gives you indigestions. Avoid any snacks end users offer you unless they fall into the category of fruits, etc. Cookies are full of refined sugar (tax your insulin production), hydrogenated crisco, aluminum (sodium 'acid' pyrophosphate is actually aluminum compound, common in baking 'powder', of which baking soda (no aluminum) is a component. To paraphrase, if God had wanted us to eat aluminum, he would have made us look like Cylon toasters. And brush your teeth after eating ANYTHING! this will cut down snax which you shouldn't need if you eat complex carbs, save you a bundle on dental bills, you'll be more likely to impress the end user with fresh breath (and maybe meet someone? :) Desk-dust can be very nasty as mentioned. I worked in a plant with a goodly layer of this stuff. Every week or two some guy would wander around with a tank spraying some unmentionable bug spray into the dust pile. So if you crawl around in this you may be zapped like a bug if you don't wash it off quick. Doing all this, pretty soon you'll be 'superperson'! able to jump a VPN circuit in microseconds. Leap tall buildings to that user on the top floor! And avoid worrying about the occasional obnoxious end users. If you are cool and professional they have less chance or want to yell and blame you. Just imagine yourself as your fav superhero: Retief, galactic troubleshooter, able to side-step five eyed Groaci with ease; or the SSR - Stainless Steel Rat, Slippery Jim, incognito, saving the universe. Enjoy your day. Not so much as mentioned that you stay for unpaid work if you can avoid it! Be sure to enjoy your time off work to avoid burnout. Make leaving work just on your way to somewhere else cool. You can use going to the gym after work as an excuse to get out on time. Doesn't need to be for long. Half hour to 45 minutes a day or at least 3x a week will do wonders for your circulation, stress levels and counter-act bad ventilation, and other problems at work. This is also more likely to keep you successful as people in biz as a group tend to discriminate against people who are unhealthy looking. May not be 'fair' but that's how it is.

Jeff Dray
Jeff Dray

Have you encountered any of these health risks? Let me know.

JodyGilbert
JodyGilbert

Thanks for the heads-up -- it should work for you now. Jody

ed.everidge
ed.everidge

When I worked for GE medical at the Pruka R&D lab in Sugarland, one of the callibrations we had to do was to make sure our software and hardware reported the correct temperature (a common cardiac procedure at the time was to measure flow by injecting cold liquid, and the gauge the flow by the thermal dilution). I was callibrating the equipment with the probe in 32 degree water (mostly ice, in a slush) when I noted that the computer connection had come loose. When I crawled under the desk to fix the connection, I managed to tip a quart of ice water onto my back. No damage, but an unforgetable lesson. I got to thinking what would it be like to tip an oscilloscope on to my back and became a lot more careful.

kmurray
kmurray

Yes, I've read that same prescription for Vitamin C at the start of a cold too and I have found it highly effective. My cold symptoms are much less severe and reduced in duration. The only problem is your body's tolerance for it. The regular daily dose of vitamin C is 1000mg, so when you start taking your entire daily dose every 2-3 hours, your body is going start eliminating it faster. Which doesn't mean you should stop doing it, but be prepared for bloating and many trips to the bathroom! Also, as a tip (and I learned this in a biology experiment), if you leave any sort of fresh vitamin C (orange juice, real orange, etc.) out in the open for more than 20 minutes, it loses its vitamin C. So drink your juice when it's fresh out of the bottle, or keep the bottle tightly closed.

AstroCreep
AstroCreep

I found your post to be quite insightful as far as healthy habits go (in general); kudos! I do have to take exception to the "Favorite Superhero" comment though, as my favorite superhero is Batman; Batman is supposed to be angry, dark, brooding, and anti-social. I don't think that would cut it for good user support, lol. ;)

trohland
trohland

My work would laugh at me if I stayed off for a cold. To be honest the work environment I work in is disgusting. They dont off free wipes for us or anything. However after reading this article I will make a conscious decision to wash my hands every time I go to make coffee. I will also request wet wipes.

AstroCreep
AstroCreep

I worked at a manufacturing plant for a good five years. The plant was very dirty/dusty. Most of the time there was a failure in a system it was due to dust and/or heat (usually a bad PSU or HDD). And since there was always something going on in the plant, it's not like they could really "Clean it up" with chemicals or solvents except for maybe once a year when they did the annual inventory. I always dreaded having to go into the plant because you'd always come back caked in soot, and God forbid if you had to bring a PC back with you and work on it at your workstation; thick dust everywhere. And to make matters worse, they didn't do the best of jobs keeping the general offices clean/dusted. I got a ton of sinus infections working there.

jknetworks@gmail.com
jknetworks@gmail.com

We?ve become such germaphopes, me included. I feel like a doctor when moving from keyboard to keyboard, removing the travel-sized bottle from my pocket for a quick wash. Just last week, I had a bit of a panic attack when my bottle went missing. Now I carry a couple of extras in my bag. Compulsive, yes. And I?m not building up those antibodies. But when you see otherwise very intelligent users leaving the restroom without washing their hands? Stay away from the community food too! Thanks for the tips.

Belmosan
Belmosan

I am Director of IS for a school district...thankfully, I now have 2 techs who handle 95% of the service requests. They are exposed to a sick amount of bacteria (pardon the pun). Coughing and sneezing are off the charts in the Elementary Schools.

fruitbat83
fruitbat83

I've come across the "streaming with a cold" user. Once I spotted a colleague sneeze, as he sneezed he covered his nose with his hand, and then carried on using his mouse and keyboard. Needless to say as soon as he nipped out for a "smoking break" about 2 minutes later, I seized some wipes and gave his entire workstation a wipe down. Before moving "down south" I used to be able to walk home from work (15-20 minute walk) which I found really helpful if the day had been stressful.

noemib
noemib

I added wipes to my toolkit long ago and have followed the handwashing rule faithfully. One other thing that I have gotten in the habit of doing is wiping a phone down before using. If you're a tech and have to make that phone call at the end of your visit or for whatever other reason, and you can't use your own cell phone because there's no signal, stop a moment and take a look at the receiver. You may be in for a nasty surprise!

RayJeff
RayJeff

The adult students are the ones you really have to worry about. At least with the youngins, you know why they are since. But with university/college students, they cough all over the place. Paper towels and tissues are laid all over the place...under the tables and countertops!! Every moth, I'd be restocking my supplies of Clorox Disinfecting wipes, Clorox Disinfecting spray and antimicrobial dry wipes and clothes.

pysces83
pysces83

True enough - I've also seen collegues sneezing happily over their keyboards, but what always gets me is the number of people who fail to wash their hands after using the toilet. Ugh.