Infection control in the workplace
Infection control in the workplace is a vital aspect of health and safety planning that can get overlooked. Often, our main focus is on preventing accidents and injuries in the workplace. It can take a major news event, such as the recent outbreak of the coronavirus, to remind us how easily these serious and occasionally deadly infections can be spread. The coronavirus has already infected thousands in China, proving potentially fatal, especially for those already vulnerable, such as the elderly, the very young and those with existing health issues.
The coronavirus is not the only health scare that we’ve had in recent times, of course. SARS, Ebola and other major outbreaks worldwide are always a concern. Many other minor infections may not be fatal, but they can quickly spread through a workplace environment, jeopardising the health of your employees and customers, so it’s vital to ensure that infection control is prioritised in your workplace.
What do I need to know about infection control?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has provided guidelines on how to contain and limit the spread of infections in the workplace. It advises that while there are extra precautions to be taken in certain workplaces (such as laboratories and healthcare facilities), all workplaces should be aware of the importance of infection control at work. The HSE has produced a report called ‘Infection at work: Controlling the Risks’, which can be accessed at its website.
As is the case with the coronavirus, many infections are spread through both direct and indirect contact. This means that touching the same equipment and surfaces as an infected person can spread the virus. Many viruses are, of course, also airborne, meaning that following good etiquette regarding coughing and sneezing is essential to prevent others from being infected.
How can I support infection control at work?
The main thing to be aware of is that anyone can be infectious. Some illnesses and viruses are contagious before any symptoms are present, and these are the ones that tend to spread far and wide, as those that harbour the illness are completely unaware that they are infectious.
As a preventative measure, it is essential that infection control and hygiene procedures are in place in the workplace. Hand hygiene is perhaps most important. All employees should be encouraged to wash their hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and water. Hand-sanitising gel can also be helpful, and it may be advisable to set up hand sanitisation points around the workplace.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is another potential hazard. It’s particularly vital that people within your workplace do not share items such as protective masks or earplugs, and any PPE should be either disposable or properly and regularly cleaned to prevent the spread of infection.
It is also vital to:
• Dispose of all clinical waste carefully
• Keep surfaces and equipment that is handled by workers clean
• Clean and disinfect work areas regularly
• Not cough and sneeze into sleeves or hands
• Avoid touching the face if possible, as this transfers germs onto hands
Follow these simple guidelines, and you should be able to control, or at least limit, the spread of infections in the workplace.