Considering the current COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the world, controlling a virus and bacterial spread in the workplace is more important than ever. Industrial safety hazard education has traditionally focused on all other kinds of dangers and rarely emphasized these kinds of threats. There are some lessons to be learned and applied moving forward. If your workplace isn’t already doing it, below are some important steps that should be implemented immediately.
The truth is that our country counts on us to keep it going. Preventing production disruptions has less to do with the profitability of an organization and more to do with job retention and output that can oftentimes be so desperately needed. Although many industries can adjust the way they work during a pandemic such as working from home. Industrial workplaces don’t have that luxury, yet our output is paramount to the livelihood of everyone. So, we’re going to take a look at some practical steps that many workplaces can implement to help them reduce the chances of employees spreading infection and viruses such as COVID-19.
COVID-19 is spread when an infected person touches their eyes, mouth, face, or nose and then touches items such as door handles, equipment, buttons and controls, and other surfaces. It can also be spread by sneaking or coughing.
The World Health Organization and many other health organizations are recommending some simple yet effective measures to help control the spread of COVID-19.
GENERAL INFECTION PREVENTION CONTROL IN THE WORKPLACE
To prevent the spread of infections due to bacteria, viruses, and fungi passed on through bodily fluids. The following interventions are considered general best practices for worker protection.
It's important to note that these interventions are not useful for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 alone. Indeed, these general measures are also robust and effective against a myriad of viral and bacterial illnesses that spread via human-to-human or surface-to-human transmission.
SOME STANDARD HAND HYGIENE PROCEDURES THAT ALL WORKPLACES SHOULD BE IMPLEMENTING:
- Provide non-touch waste receptacles
- Encourage employees to clean hands often with warm water and soap, or with an alcohol hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol but preferably 95% alcohol (e.g. isopropyl alcohol).
Hand washing should take a minimum of 20 seconds. Ideally, all workers should be trained in the 7-steps of handwashing
- Maintain an adequate supply of hand sanitizer and soap in the workplace
- Use non-sterile single-use gloves when handling and emptying waste receptacles. Use once and place in waste containers.
ALONG WITH CORRECT HAND HYGIENE, THERE ARE ALSO SOME GENERAL HOUSEKEEPING HYGIENE RULES WHICH COMPANIES SHOULD BE IMPLEMENTING:
- Clean and disinfect all surfaces regularly, and if surfaces come into contact with someone who is exhibiting symptoms of an illness
- Clean and disinfect all push buttons, phone receivers, and phone buttons and keypads, other keypads, LOTO locks, door handles, etc.
- Dispose of gloves after each cleaning task to ensure that contaminated gloves do not serve as niduses for infection
- Provide employees with hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes for surfaces, and facial tissues
- It’s important to note that most, if not all, of these hygiene procedures, should be part of any thorough OHS policy and not just implemented during an outbreak.
If the situation arises in any workshop or job site that someone is sick, there are several important steps that you should follow to ensure that the clean-up is handled correctly. These clean-up steps should be well documented so that any employees required to clean-up after an accident or spill understand the correct steps to take.
- Do not come into direct contact with any bodily fluids such as vomit, urine, or blood, etc.
- Wear gloves and a face mask which must be discarded after each cleanup task
- Sprinkle the area with an antiseptic absorbent powder if it is a hard surface
- Have powder sit for 5-10 minutes, or as indicated in use instructions
- Wipe up with disposable wipes or paper towel
- Place all waste from cleaning up in plastic garbage bag and seal
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water
- If bodily fluids are on carpeted or upholstered areas, use a carpet extractor to remove the fluids
- Clean carpet or upholstery with a heavy-duty disinfecting cleaner that won’t discolor the area
- Any other tools used to clean the area must be disinfected after cleaning up
If you can eliminate people getting sick before they enter the workplace, you’ll reduce the amount of clean-up and sickness that you need to deal with later on.
WHAT ARE SOME PREVENTIVE MEASURES THAT COMPANIES SHOULD BE TAKING TO HELP THE SPREAD OF VIRUSES AND FLU?
- Encourage employees to get relevant immunizations (e.g., influenza) and keep immunizations up to date
- Employees who are intending to travel overseas should consult with their general practitioners for region-specific immunizations (e.g., Hepatitis A and Japanese Encephalitis)
- Encourage employees to stay home if they are sick
- Formulate remote-work policies to encourage work-from-home if necessary (e.g. if an asymptomatic employee is quarantined at home because of a positive travel history)
- Provide training to employees regarding infection prevention and control
SIMPLE AND LOW COST MEASURES TO PREVENT INFECTION SPREAD IN THE WORKPLACE
- Keep the workplace clean and hygienic with good housekeeping, as indicated above.
- Practice good hand hygiene including frequent and regular hand washing by all employees regardless of position
- Avoid handshaking and instead adopt verbal greetings as the norm
- Request that customers and contractors use sanitizer or wash their hands when they enter and leave the premises
- Infection prevention and control training in the workplace
- Encourage employees to keep a 6 foot (2 meter) personal space between each other
- Keep ample hand sanitizer and paper tissues on hand
- Check CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and WHO (World Health Organization) guidelines for gathering recommendations before hosting meetings or events
ADDITIONAL MEASURES THAT CAN BE TAKEN
- Ensure that sick employees cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- If there are no tissues readily available, always cough or sneeze into your elbow. Never cough or sneeze without covering your nose and mouth.
- Never cough or sneeze into your hands.
- Ensure that employees wash their hands with soap and water after sneezing.
Post Health Posters
- Attach posters delineated the 7-steps of handwashing at every sink/restroom for maximum visibility and adherence
- Attach posters summarizing the social distancing measures recommended by the CDC and WHO
- Attach posters at the entrance/exit of the premises to remind employees and visitors to use the hand sanitizers when entering and leaving the premises
- Encourage any employees who have COVID-19 type symptoms to stay home
- Implement a temporary sick policy that is flexible and takes into account the 14-day self-isolation recommendations. Include provisions for employees to complete work from home where possible to maintain productivity if that is an issue.
Points to include in temporary sick days policy during COVID-19 pandemic:
- Suspend sick note requirements for the duration of the pandemic
- Include self-isolation in the policy for employees who have a sick family member or a family member with a recent travel history to China, Italy or South Korea
- Be flexible with employees who need to care for sick family members
- Revise sick policy as public health guidelines change during a pandemic
- Ensure employees stay home for a minimum 24 hours symptom-free without any medications
Develop contingency plans for business operations if business is impacted by COVID-19
- If an employee is found to be symptomatic during work, he/she should be sent home immediately.
- Identify a replacement in advance that can take over any responsibilities that may not be able to be left unattended such as maintenance, safety supply purchasing, or logistics just to name a few.
WHAT ARE THE REAL COSTS ASSOCIATED WITH A VIRUS OUTBREAK SUCH AS COVID-19?
Look at what’s happening to industries and businesses around the world right now, and you’ll get a pretty clear picture of what happens when a business doesn’t control the spread of infection or viruses in the workplace.
Businesses are closing down, employees are being laid off, and around the world, we see businesses and entire industries grind to a complete halt.
Can you afford to close the doors and simply walk away for a month, two months, with no income stream coming in? Not many businesses can. It’s important to control the risks of any virus outbreak before it happens.
We know that social distancing and basic hygiene is the easiest preventative measure that any business can take to control the risk of infection. Below are some steps that any large manufacturing business can take to help get on top of the risks before it’s too late:
Walkthrough your workshop or factory and identify any areas where employees are gathering in large areas such as lunch areas, toilets, clock in/outlines, storerooms, meeting rooms, and specific machines and implement measures to maintain recommended social distancing.
Any areas that are high touchpoints such as toilet doors, office doors, food preparation areas, handrails, machinery buttons, power points, isolation points, equipment control rooms need to be regularly cleaned as well as having anti-bacterial wipes and sprays installed for employee use.
Provide up-to-date information about how employees can help to protect themselves and others through the correct hygiene methods.
Take a proactive approach to control the spread of viruses by reducing meetings, spreading out employees, looking at rotating alternative shifts, encouraging employees not to come to work if they are sick, or has been in close contact with someone that has been sick.
Employ additional cleaners to continually cycle through the workplace and focus on cleaning the areas which you have identified as being high touch areas.
SPECIFIC COVID-19 INFORMATION, FACTS, AND PREVENTION/CONTROL MEASURES
As we begin to learn more about COVID-19, experts have highlighted several groups of people that are at ‘higher risk’ of contracting the virus and may experience more severe symptoms. If you are in one of the groups that are more at risk, it’s important to pay close attention to how you interact with people and how you manage your hygiene.
COVID-19 RISK FACTORS
Those over the age of 40 seem to be at a higher risk for the more severe forms of the illness
Those with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk for the more severe forms of the illness. Weak immune systems are present in people who fulfill one of the following conditions:
- Below the age of 5
- Above the age of 55
- Post-organ transplant
- Undergoing chemotherapy/radiotherapy
- Chronic diabetes mellitus (DM)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- End-stage renal failure (ESRF)
- Poorly controlled human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Taking high-dose steroids
- Hematological (blood) cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma
- Those with diabetes, heart, and lung diseases are at a higher risk for the more severe forms of the illness
- Those with other underlying chronic health conditions
HOW DOES COVID-19 SPREAD?
COVID-19 spreads in ways that are similar to the common cold or seasonal flu.
Small droplets released from a carrier or infected person by breathing, coughing, or sneezing. The droplets land on hard surfaces or remain on the infected person's hands which then touch other surfaces leaving the virus behind. Other people then touch the contaminated surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth introducing the virus to their body.
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Sore Throat
- Nasal Congestion
- Muscle Pains
- Fever (above 100.4 F or 37.6 C or higher)
- Shortness of breath or severe difficulty breathing
- Pain or pressure in the chest – does not let up
- Confusion or an altered mental state in people who were previously fine
- Lethargy or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips and/or face
Industries are facing increasing pressure around the world during the current COVID-19 pandemic, with many countries enforcing bans on non-essential businesses, travel, gathering in public, and self-isolation.
By taking preventive measures before any outbreak at your workplace, you could greatly reduce the risk of viruses such as COVID-19 spreading. Taking early preventative action could allow employees to remain at work and keep your business operating (even at a reduce output) longer.
*This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.