Keeping bugs at bay: Infection prevention and control in the workplace
With coronavirus not yet contained and flu season just around the corner, it’s important that we all get a refresher on infection prevention and control in the workplace. Infection is caused by pathogens (sometimes called bugs or germs) such as bacteria or viruses entering someone’s body. There are common ones, like the cold virus, gastritis or respiratory tract infections, and rarer or more serious infections, like coronavirus. You may have an obligation to report specific infections to the regulatory body in your state or territory (find out here). Infections can be transmitted through breathing in airborne germs; contact with someone’s skin or bodily fluids, or; touching objects, food, substances or surfaces that are contaminated. Infections can be transmitted from both other people and animals, and not everyone in a workplace will have the same level of susceptibility to infection. Some may be vaccinated or naturally immune and others may have a weaker immune system and greater vulnerability.
Whatever your workspaces are, there are precautions you can take to help limit the transmission of infections whenever possible. If you’re an employer, it’s worth remembering that your obligation under Section 19 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) as a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) is to ensure workers and others are not exposed to risks to their health and safety, so this is under your remit. People may be unknowingly harbouring an infection before they display any symptoms, so it’s wise to assume everyone is potentially infectious and act accordingly. Better to be safe than sorry, in other words.
Download a free policy that can be tailored to your workplace here: Infection Prevention and Control Policy March 2020
Here are some ways to help prevent infection transmission in your workplace:
This may seem obvious, but it’s the easiest and best way to prevent the spread of pathogens. It’s important to wash your hands thoroughly for at least 15 seconds with water and soap, anytime you go to the toilet, prepare food, or touch clients, equipment or materials. Here’s how to wash hands properly. Download a poster for your place of work here.
- Use PPE
You may already be in a role that necessitates the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) for your personal safety, but if you’re not, you could think about wearing gloves and/or a mask if you’re coming into regular contact with people, objects or substances that could carry infection. If you’re in the healthcare industry, this is particularly advisable, but the current advice from the federal government advice is that members of the general public do not need to wear face masks. Find out more here. If washable/reusable PPE is used, it also needs to be laundered and disposed of correctly.
- Maintain your personal hygiene
Apart from handwashing, it’s also important that you maintain your own personal hygiene by doing things like covering areas of broken skin (cuts or abrasions) and ensuring you only use your own towel, razor, toothbrush and other toiletries. Cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than hand, and dispose of used tissues in a closed bin.
- Keep your workplace clean
Now more than ever, it’s important to keep work environments clean and disinfected. This includes walls, floors and other surfaces like desks, benches and tables, as well as equipment like phones, keyboards, headsets, microphones, touchscreen monitors, eftpos keypads, door handles and keypad entry panels. Mops and cleaning cloths should be washed and thoroughly dried. Remember to clean the filters on your air conditioning units, too, as these can harbour mould spores. Make sure your pest control measures are sufficient and up to date.
- Waste disposal
Depending on the nature of your workplace, it may be prudent to have sharps disposal units installed, and if the nature of the work or work environment means that bodily fluids may need to be cleaned up, there are specific instructions for how to do this here. Appropriate handling and disposal of infectious waste is also essential. If these materials are to be handled, gloves and tongs/grabbers can help limit exposure.
- Food preparation
Many infections are transmitted through food. When preparing food in the workplace for general consumption, it’s important to wash hands thoroughly (before and after handling food); wear gloves, hairnets and other PPE as required; control temperature of food sufficiently (keep hot food hot and cold food cold); use separate storage, equipment, utensils and preparation surfaces for cooked and uncooked foods, and; wash all surfaces, utensils and equipment with hot water and detergent after use.
Depending on your work environments, you may also need to consider other measures to facilitate infection control, including ‘stay-home’ guidelines to discourage unwell staff from coming in; not penalising staff for absences if they are infectious; and restricting visitors and quarantining unwell staff members in the event of an infection outbreak.
Ultimately, it’s important to make sure all staff understand and are involved in your workplace’s infection prevention protocols and practices, as trained staff will be better able to uphold the necessary standards of health and safety that prevent infections spreading. To make sure all staff have access to this information, we’ve developed a free Infection Prevention and Control Policy February 2020 for you to download today.
If you’d like any more information or advice about infection prevention and control in your work environments, call Recovery Partners on 1300 OHS RTW (647 789) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: This document must at all times be used cautiously and must be modified to reflect the particular circumstances in which it is proposed to be used. This document does not comprise legal or other professional advice. No person should rely on this document without first obtaining advice from a qualified professional and reviewing the document to ascertain if it is appropriate for the intended use. Recovery Partners does not warrant that this document is fit for any specific purpose, including without limitation compliance with any legal requirements that may be applicable to your organisation. Recovery Partners does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the contents of the document.
Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at www.workcover.nsw.au
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