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?