How to Protect your Employees from Viruses and Bacteria

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Image credit: www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/Arnon_Mungyodklang

One of the most important responsibilities of any business or organisation is to keep their employees safe. This means safe from accidents and illnesses that they may encounter as part of their work.

Good office health and safety means protecting your employees from viruses and bacteria. This is important at any time, and no more so now in the context of global events. Even though many offices may be closed down at present with employees working from home, these tips on protecting your employees from viruses and bacteria will be critical when they return to the workplace.

Have an Infection Control Plan

It is important that every workplace has an infection control plan. If you don’t know what that is, now is the time to do some research and develop one! Infection control is all about controlling and restricting the pathogens on your premises, and stopping them from infecting your staff, customers or visitors.

Pathogens are microorganisms that cause disease, including bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi. Infection can be spread from pathogens found on surfaces or objects, or passed from person to person. This is particularly the case for people who are infected but do not have any symptoms yet, and therefor don’t know they are sick. Often, people can still pass on infections during this time, known as the incubation period.

An infection control plan sets out how these pathogens will be prevented from infecting people in the workplace. This should cover strategies such as having adequate hand washing facilities and equipment, proper facilities for washing kitchen equipment, regular cleaning and special cleaning arrangements for workstations of employees with a suspected or confirmed infection, and regularly checking and maintaining all ventilation systems.

Make Sure Your Employees Wash Their Hands

Hand-washing is one of the most effective was to stop the spread of viruses and bacteria. People touch things hundreds if not thousands of times a day, and as they do they can pick up pathogens, which they then spread to the next thing that they touch.

The best way to prevent this spread is simply by washing our hands. Teach your employees to wash their hands properly: this means using anti-bacterial soap and running water, massaging through all parts of the hands for 20 seconds. Help to make sure they follow this regularly by providing a clean wash station and anti-bacterial soap, as well as a hygienic method for drying their hands.

It is very difficult to enforce hand-washing, but one of the most effective ways to get them to do this is through encouragement. Something as simple as having a poster over the hand-basin in the employee washroom can make a huge difference to employees washing their hands.  Inspirational posters are often the most effective.

Wipe Down Germ Hot-Spots

Offices and other workplaces are, unfortunately, the perfect environment for spreading viruses and bacteria. These pathogens are transferred to common surfaces where they can live for some time, before being transferred to the next person who touches that surface. On fact, experts tell us that every time you touch a surface like a doorknob, desks, or coffee pots, you will pick up 30 to 50% of the germs on that surface.

The most common germ hot-spots in offices are:

  • Desks
  • Keyboard and mouse
  • Communal fridge
  • Mugs
  • Door handles
  • Photocopier

Make sure that all of these surfaces are cleaned regularly with disinfectant. You should also encourage your employees to wipe down their workstation with disinfectant wipes, paying particular attention to their keyboard, mouse, computer and phone, which can also be germ hot-spots.

Make Sure Your Employees Take Sick Leave

One of the main causes of infections spreading in the workplace is employees coming to work when they’re sick. This is all too common in our modern, high-pressure workplaces, where people feel there is too much to be done for them to call in sick. If one of your team is unwell but comes to work anyway, they may very well pass on their illness to the rest of the team.

The best way to avoid this is to create a culture where it is not only accepted but encouraged for employees to stay at home when they are unwell. You can do this through formal policies and training, but also in the way this behaviour is treated in the workplace. Managers should never punish or frown on people taking time off when they are sick, and they should actively send home anyone who does turn up to work sick.

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