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Coronavirus: Preventative Workplace Infection Control Measures

Posted by Dr. Felice Carlton on March 11, 2020 at 8:24 AM

As more information continues to unfold about the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States, it’s important to stay vigilant about it’s current spread, and to prepare in advance to mitigate any potential adverse effects.

Please see “Coronavirus Pandemic Preparedness from a Medical Perspectivefor simple yet detailed information on how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and for insight on how to prepare (both personally and on an organizational level) for potential coronavirus effects. 

This article is intended to build from the previously mentioned article to provide additional recommendations to maintain safety and prevent infection in the workplace.

Organizations must be Vigilant about Disinfecting Commonly Touched Surfaces

Current research indicates that COVID-19 is spread via two main routes. The first method is transmission of the virus through respiratory droplets. This involves breathing in microscopic droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The second route is related to touching your eyes, nose or mouth after encountering an infected surface.

It is unknown how long coronavirus can live on surfaces. Todd Ellerin, MD (contributor for Harvard Medical School Health Blog) stated, “According to the WHO, coronaviruses may survive on surfaces for just a few hours or several days, although many factors will influence this, including surface material and weather.”

Thus, it is critically important for organizations to take a proactive approach to preventing the potential spread through contaminated surfaces.

Strategies to Reduce the Spread of COVID-19 through Surfaces

  • Regularly disinfect surfaces that are higher risk for being frequently touched by multiple employees. This may include but is not limited to: doorknobs, keyboards (and the attached computer mouse), faucet handles, water fountains, copiers, fax machines, shared office supplies, telephones or chairs (especially the arm rests). Consult with organizational policy regarding the types of disinfectant utilized. Also, consider any employee allergies to specific products.
  • Know the difference between “cleaning” and “disinfecting.” According to the CDC, “cleaning refers to the removal of dirt and impurities, including germs, from surfaces. Cleaning alone does not kill germs. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs. Killing germs remaining on a surface after cleaning further reduces any risk of spreading infection (Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection, 2020).”
  • Ensure an adequate stock of disinfectant supplies onsite. If there is an unanticipated impact on delivering supplies, do you have an adequate supply onsite to keep your workplace safe?
  • Employees may consider keeping a personal supply of hand sanitizer (60% alcohol-based) and disinfectant wipes (or disinfectant spray) in their close vicinity.  Of course this is dependent upon job duties, safety, and personal feasibility.
  • Individual employees may consider disinfecting surfaces in their own vicinity periodically for infection control. This could include personal surfaces that they frequently touch in their own office or cubicle.

Strategies to Reduce Viral Spread through Staffing Considerations

  • Encourage (or mandate if deemed the safest alternative in COVID-19 affected regions) telework options for those positions that are not required to be physically present in the facility. Also consider conference calls (if appropriate) instead of in-person meetings.
  • Encourage sick employees to stay home. Recently, the federal government announced that they would be providing relief and assistance to hourly wage workers that need to stay home due to illness. This is intended to assist hourly wage workers that are concerned about maintaining consistent income while under self-quarantine.  Stay abreast of the details as they are released to the public.
  • Consider having a separate space for employees that become sick at work and are unable to leave immediately. This should ensure that other employees are not at risk of potential contamination.
  • Employers and staff may need to consider a plan to address potential effects from schools or childcare agencies that need to close for extended periods of time. This will affect the parents’ ability to work if they are unable to secure alternate childcare arrangements.
  • Consider cross-training individuals so multiple roles are covered if needed due to limited onsite staffing.
  • Evaluate the risks versus benefits of any business-related travel. First determine if travel is essential or non-essential, especially when entering areas of known COVID-19 exposure.

General Recommendations for Everyone

  • Be vigilant not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth before washing your hands.
  • After you wash your hands, use a clean paper towel to turn off the water faucet.  Remember non-censored water faucets are dirty. Everyone must touch them to initiate water flow to wash their hands. Touching the faucet handle to turn off the water after you’ve washed your hands could expose you to contamination.
  • Check on elderly family members or friends to ensure they have adequate supplies and medications. If possible, it’s best to gather any supplies or medications that they may need and deliver it to them (to prevent potential exposure from the public). If needed, it’s always possible to disinfect the surfaces of purchased items to ensure they do not have increased risk of exposure.

The CDC recently updated their website to include recommendations to protect yourself in various situations such as: at home, at work, in schools and in the community. These recommendations can be found here (website also listed below).

Final Thought

Prepare but do not panic.  It’s much better to be prepared with minimal effects than unprepared and suffering consequences.

Resources

American Society of Safety Professionals. (2020, March 2).  The Safety Professional’s Role in Planning for a Pandemic.  Retrieved from https://www.assp.org/news-and-articles/2020/03/02/the-safety-professional-s-role-in-planning-for-a-pandemic

Centers for Disease Control. (2020, March 9).  Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection Recommendations. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/cleaning-disinfection.html

Centers for Disease Control. (2020, March 9).  Interim Guidance for Business and Employers.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/businesses-employers.html

Centers for Disease Control. (2020, March 9).  Preventing COVID-19 Spread in Communities. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/index.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fpreparing-individuals-communities.html

Ellerin, T. (2020, February 27).  As coronavirus spreads, many questions and some answers.  Harvard Health Publishing.  https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/as-coronavirus-spreads-many-questions-and-some-answers-2020022719004#q5