Creating An Action Plan to Prevent the Spread of Infectious Diseases in the Workplace

With recent outbreaks happening in the United States, the Ebola incident, for example, employers may want to assess their infection control programs currently in place at their workplaces that line up with safety regulations and ensure workers health and safety.

In all reality, the vast majority of people will never come in contact Ebola, but the risk of common infectious diseases outbreaks are still viable. Common diseases such as influenza, pertussis, tubulous, and hepatitis affect millions of people every year and have the potential to spread throughout a facility swiftly.

Employers should anticipate that they will periodically face epidemics and other biological threats and take proactive steps to protect their employees and their organizations. (SHRM)

Here are a few basic actions businesses should take when there is a potential outbreak of disease:

  • Notification and verification of risk.
  • Understanding the disease.
  • The scope of the risk.
  • Knowing employer response.

In order to construct an effective infection control strategy, both employers and employees need to have an accurate understanding of the modes of transmission in which infection spreads. A study was done by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the main routes that infection spreads in the workplace are:

  • Contact (direct and indirect)
  • Droplet-borne
  • Airborne

How Infection is Spread in the Workplace

Direct contact involves the infectious agent being transmitted from person-to-person. Indirect contact happens when the infectious agent is transferred to an object or surface that is then touched by employees.

Droplet-borne transmission happens when a person coughs, sneezes or talks. This causes the infectious agents to be released and come in direct contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth of another recipient.

Airborne transmission happens when aerosolized particles that contain infectious agents are inhaled.

With the spread of infectious diseases becoming more common and considering the close proximity of most workplaces and the sharing of office supplies, the implementation of an infectious disease control plan should be considered.

How Infection Control Procedures Can Help Prevent the Spread of Disease

Employers need to have infection control procedures written and specific to their workplace and the type of work done by employees on a daily basis. This plan should be continually evaluated and updated (at least annually) in order to reduce the potential risk of exposure. This evaluation should also take into account new or modified tasks and procedures in the workplace that may heighten the risk of exposure.

Not only should a plan be put in place, but it’s vital that employees are trained and have an understanding of the procedures. All employees should be aware of the standards put in place, proper hand washing techniques, and expectations for health during the workweek.

In addition, employers must reinforce the importance of sick employees staying home to prevent the spread of infection. Workplaces must have standards in place to protect their employees and inform them of when they need to remain home from work.

Businesses should also consider the potential loss of workforce, any functions closed and the ability to temporarily fill positions to keep the company from financial losses. Should an outbreak take place, decisions and actions need to be put in place ahead of time. Businesses need to develop an outbreak management preparedness plan to reduce their level of risk as well as liability.

An effective infection control plan includes education and training for employees, a strategy in the event of an outbreak, understanding of fundamental principles, proper monitoring of the workplace, and compliance with OSHA standards.

“It's better to be prepared for something that doesn't happen than unprepared for something that does," says Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP). (SHRM)

Employers should be doing everything they can to ensure that their employees are safeguarded, and are removed as far as possible from the possibility of infectious outbreaks. Businesses should take note of OSHA standards and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Employers need an action plan to handle an outbreak efficiently and effectively, along with access to the emergency response team that has access to the proper equipment, such as a temporary containment system that can quickly be installed during these outbreaks.

Written by Gearhart and Associates, LLC. for STARC Systems, Inc. Gearhart and Associates are industry experts in Infection Control Risk Assessment (ICRA) training, Infection Control and Prevention Strategies, and Facilities Risk Management.

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