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Workplace infection prevention

7/1/2010

Most Americans work outside the home. Whether in an office or in a more non-traditional setting, we come into contact with many different individuals and multiple potential reservoirs for the transmission of infection. So what can we do on a routine basis to protect our health and the overall health of our working environment?

We can start by focusing on how germs are transmitted. Typically germs that can cause infection are transmitted by contact spread, airborne spread or droplet spread. Contact- spread illnesses can be transmitted by touching an ill individual or by contact with their contaminated environment (such as their phone, keyboard or other personal items). Airborne illnesses are transmitted by breathing in germs from the air that has been contaminated by an individual with this type of illness. Droplet transmission occurs when we are exposed to respiratory secretions (e.g., mucus) coughed up by individuals infected with droplet-transmitted germs. Most illnesses that we might be exposed to at work are either contact- or droplet-transmitted, and there are routine prevention methods available for our protection.

Personal hygiene practices

  • Hand hygiene. The spread of many illnesses can be prevented with regular hand hygiene. You should thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds after visiting the toilet, before preparing food, and after touching clients or equipment. Dry your hands with disposable paper towels. Waterless hand sanitizers maybe used unless hands are visibly dirty.
  • Skin integrity. Intact and healthy skin is a major barrier to pathogens. Any cuts or abrasions should be covered with a waterproof dressing.
  • Personal items. Don't share combs, brushes, towels, clothing, razors, toothbrushes, shavers or other personal items.

Cleanliness in the workplace

  • Minimize clutter to enable appropriate cleaning of the environment.
  • Regularly wash the floors, bathrooms and surfaces - such as tables and bench tops - with hot water and detergent.
  • Mops, brushes and cloths should be thoroughly washed and dried after every use.
  • When using disinfectants - always wear gloves, clean the surfaces before using the disinfectant, and always follow the manufacturer's instructions exactly.

Respiratory etiquette

  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. If tissues aren't available use the bend of your arm.
  • Dispose of contaminated tissues in waste containers.
  • Disinfect hands after coughs and sneezes.

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