Infections in the Workplace

How often do you turn up for work whilst feeling poorly, under the weather and not a hundred percent?  You have a desk full of paperwork, phone calls to make, deadlines to meet, and as they say in show business the show must go on. However, how often do you stop to consider the risk of spreading your infections to your colleagues and your clients? Unfortunately, this happens all too often throughout the many businesses around the country, which is why infectious diseases spread so quickly around the workplace.

The danger posed through infectious diseases is not a new problem; however, it has been increased due to continental travel, migration, people relocating to new areas and also due to medical procedures and the increased use of antibiotics resulting in microbial resistance.   

In order to ensure that your premises are kept clean and dirt free, a great deal of physical effort and hard work is required as well as effective techniques. Unfortunately, the techniques that used to be passed down from generation to generation in order to form an integral part of an individual’s knowledge, seem to have been lost in favour of new and improved chemical cleaning products which emphasise how easy they are to use. These products, however, do not always achieve the results that they state and can often be harmful to people and the environment.

In recent years, it has been documented that there has been an increases in new cases of occupationally-acquired infection, although the figures are not always accurate because, individuals only report infections when they require medical attention.  Many infections are often mild and people get better without any need for medical intervention.

Infection control is very similar to any other element of health and safety and can be controlled simply with common sense i.e.: –

  • Identify the hazards
  • Assess the risks
  • Control the risks.

When considering who may be affected by cross infections don’t forget to take into account individuals who are not in your employment i.e. members of the public, visitors etc as you also have a duty to protect them as far as possible. Micro-organisms can be found almost everywhere in the environment a majority of which are harmless to humans and do many important jobs and can be used to make medicine. They can break down the oil from oil spills and make about half of the oxygen we breathe, however some micro-organisms also have the potential to cause disease to which your staff are exposed whilst they are at work.

Infection can often be shown as a chain “ and if you break one of the links in the chain at any point it will control the risk of infection. When you identify the hazard, you need to find out about these links to help you identify the best way to break it and so control the risk.  There are three main points to consider, when looking at infection control, source, transmission and host. 

Source.

There are four main sources of infection that need to be considered in the workplace:-

  • Blood and other body fluids (e.g. saliva) and sources of blood/body fluids such as human bodies, animal carcases and raw meat
  • Human or animal waste products such as faeces, urine and vomit
  • Respiratory discharges such as coughs and sneezes
  • Direct skin contact.

Transition

In order for anyone to be infected by micro-organisms they are required to be transferred from the source to the host by some means. Many micro-organisms have specific routes of entry, however, some infection can have more than one entry route therefore infection can occur due to:-

  • Placing contaminated hands, fingers or pens into the mouth, nose or eyes
  • Breathing in infected aerosol droplets from the air
  • Splashes of blood and other bodily fluids into the eyes and other mucous membranes i.e. nose and mouth
  • Broken skin if it comes into contact with micro-organisms or anything that may have been infected by the biological agent
  • A skin penetrating injury from a contaminated sharp such as a needle and bone splinters.

Host

Unbroken skin, the lining of the mouth, throat gut and airway all serve to protect the body from infection, however, if micro-organisms manage to get past these barriers then there is a secondary line of defence in the body known as the immune system.  The body’s immune system will fight any contagious infection and this can often be seen in the form of fevers, rashes etc. some people however are more susceptible to infections because of reduced immunity caused by pre-existing illnesses or due to medical treatment.  It is therefore advisable to check employees prior to them starting work with your care service so that you can ensure that they are adequately protected.  On the other hand some individuals may be naturally immune to disease due to the fact that they have had immunisation or have had the illness as a child.

It is therefore important to ensure that all work places are kept as clean and tidy as possible at all times and any areas that are likely to be contaminated with bacteria thoroughly deep cleaned on a regular basis.  It will also be essential to guarantee that all staff are trained to ensure that they are completing the cleaning tasks satisfactorily using the correct biocides.  

Staff should regularly wash their hands after visiting the toilet, blowing their nose, touching raw food, bodily fluids etc with suitable antibacterial soap.  It will not always be possible for members of staff to thoroughly wash their hands especially if they are away from the premises therefore it will be vital to ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided for staff to wear as well as a supply of alcohol hand rub which can be used to reduce the amount of bacteria that is transferred by individuals hands. 

It is not just your hands and premises that need to be cleaned, in a recent study it was found that there was tens of thousands of bacteria on ladies handbags, and a quarter were even found to have E.coli.  As a final thought, just think where you have put your handbag or computer bag today, on the floor of a train or a bus, the toilet floor or even on top of a bin, then you place them on your kitchen worktops, café tables and your work desk, then you eat your lunch!

Citation help businesses achieve health and safety compliance. Citation offers a fixed price health and safety and employment law consultancy service in order to help our clients comply with legislation.  For More information call 0845 844 1111 or visit www.citation.co.uk

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