Healthy Practices to Prevent Illness in the Workplace
Minimizing the spread of infectious diseases in the workplace is important. Minimizing the spread keeps staff safe and well at work. An infectious disease in the workplace is a workplace hazard.
Healthy practices to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in the workplace include:
- Wash hands often and thoroughly. As stated earlier in this course, hand hygiene is a primary measure for reducing the risk of transmitting infection from person-to-person.
- Keep workspaces and frequently touched surfaces clean. Pathogens can live on some surfaces for up to three days. Doorknobs and refrigerator handles are some of the most frequently touched surfaces. It is important to keep surfaces clean to prevent the spread of pathogens in the workplace.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes. Cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than into your hands.
- Avoid touching your face. Pathogens can enter your body through your eyes, nose, and mouth. Hand-to-face contact occurs approximately 16 times per hour. Touching your face can increase the risk of becoming ill.
- Be prepared and informed. For example, individuals usually get the flu vaccination during flu season to reduce the risk of getting ill.
Maintain a clean facility using these hygiene precautions
While it is not always possible to avoid contact with ill people, you can reduce the risk of contagious respiratory viruses in your workplace. Taking precautions will not only benefit the health and well-being of the workforce by preventing the flu and other illnesses, but it will also mean the organization does not have to incur sick days, absent employees, and the cost that the organization would have to bear.
Here are some proactive steps you can take to use the best hygiene in your facilities and prevent illness:
- Clean surfaces and high traffic areas frequently. This requires cleaning exposed surfaces that are frequently touched by personnel. Cleaning with appropriate cleaning agents will promptly remove germs before they affect personnel. It is important to clean regularly and often as research shows that the flu virus can live and potentially infect a person for up to 48 hours after being deposited on a surface.
- Try to match your cleaning efforts with proper disinfectants and cleaning agents to remove the germs you want to remove or kill. There are a variety of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered and labeled anti-microbial products suitable for use on non-porous surfaces. Users should carefully follow the disinfection directions on the labels to handle and safely use the products and to obtain the best results.
- Use disinfecting wipes on electronic items handled often. Ensure first, however, that it’s safe to wipe the electronics and follow label directions on the wipes. It may be necessary to wipe several times for them to be effective.
In addition to a robust cleaning program, ensure all personnel is trained and educated in best practices of hygiene to prevent the spread of illness and protect themselves from infections, viruses, and disease. This includes the following:
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, or cough and sneeze into your upper sleeve. Throw tissues into a “no-touch” wastebasket.
- Assure proper hand washing. Hand-washing techniques should involve a continual scrubbing motion between hands for an extended time period and used on dirty hands. Regular soap will often suffice, but an antimicrobial soap is better. Such proper hand washing will act to remove the dirt and debris. Some suggest hand washing time should be long enough to sing a “happy birthday” song.
- Encourage or incentivize vaccination. Getting the annual flu vaccine is a very effective and important way to prevent the spread of the virus.
Each year influenza and illness are a threat to workers everywhere. An ounce of prevention in a clean and sanitary workspace combined with best practices of personal and industrial hygiene is worth much more than a pound of benefit.
Practice Disease Prevention in the Workplace
As an employer, your employees’ health should be a top concern. You play an integral role in disease prevention and stopping the spread of illness throughout your workplace.
Advocating and maintaining a healthy workforce requires effective measures for both health promotion and disease prevention. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Americans spend an average of 8.9 hours per day working. Thus, on average, full-time employees spend more than 25 percent of their entire week at the workplace. Employees who work in proximity to each other, use the same office equipment, and spend time in shared spaces (such as the kitchen, bathroom, or conference areas) have an increased risk of sharing and contracting communicable diseases. Thankfully, there are simple measures that minimize the risk of infectious diseases spreading throughout your company:
Focus on Employee Education
Communicating information is the best disease prevention. Distribute helpful materials that detail ways to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. Anthem provides free information on different diseases, which can be printed and shared throughout your organization.
Consider sending a company-wide email or having your human resources department run a seminar. While much of the information centers around influenza, the same protocol applies to disease prevention for most transmittable illnesses.
Promote Workplace Sanitation
If applicable to your workplace, you may want to consider providing respirators or masks to employees to prevent the spread of airborne germs. Additionally, provide a supply of soap in the restrooms, hand sanitizer in shared spaces, and ample tissues for employee use.
If your organization utilizes a cleaning service, ensure that the organization’s protocol includes using products that kill those germs and bacteria that cause illness.
Encourage Workplace Health
Another way to reduce the risk of an infectious illness spreading through your business is by offering flu and other communicable disease vaccination clinics on-site at no charge to employees. Incorporating these types of clinics into your workplace wellness program can greatly increase employee participation. You should also consider offering flexible options to employees who are ill, such as telecommuting capabilities and encouraging sick employees to stay home and take the day off.
Make sure all employees know the protocol for calling in sick and, if possible, have game plans in place if they have to miss multiple days. The workers will feel more comfortable taking time off to get better — and keep everyone else healthy — if they know they won’t get behind at work.
While it’s nearly impossible to eliminate 100 percent of the germs and bacteria in the workplace, taking precautions, encouraging employee sanitation, and providing helpful information to staff members go a long way toward minimizing the risk of illness and maximizing disease prevention.
Allison Hutton is an experienced writer, editor, communications professional, researcher, and social media consultant. During her more than 15 years of communications and writing experience, Allison has worked with a variety of clients, from small-business owners to Fortune 500 companies. She has an M.S. in the entertainment business, a B.A. in communication, and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband and four children.