Nine Ways to Improve Workplace Hygiene in Your Practice
By Derek Jones
The coronavirus pandemic has left the world reeling. The disease COVID-19, which is caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has ravaged 188 countries, infected more than 22.7 million people worldwide, and killed at least 795,000 as of this writing.
Today more than ever, the importance of hygiene, particularly regular washing and disinfection of the hands, should be disseminated to prevent infection.
Background on the pandemic
Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that cause illness in both animals and humans. They usually circulate in animals such as camels, cats, and bats. Sometimes, the viruses can jump from animals to humans, causing outbreaks. In animals, coronaviruses usually cause diarrhea in pigs and cows, and upper respiratory illness in chickens. In humans, coronaviruses can cause mild respiratory infections, including common colds. In worse cases, they cause serious respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia, which can lead to severe complications.
SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus responsible for the current pandemic, first emerged in Wuhan City in China in December 2019. Initially, doctors encountered a cluster of patients with pneumonia-like illnesses. These cases were tied to a seafood market in the city, where the virus first started to spread. The market has been tagged as a source of wildlife trade, which is a likely source of the coronavirus.
Since COVID-19’s initial appearance, the United States has become the country with the highest infection and death tolls from the disease, reporting more than 5.6 million confirmed cases and a death toll of nearly 175,000.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that the risk of infection with COVID-19 can be reduced by taking simple precautions. These include regular cleaning or washing of the hands with soap and water, or with alcohol-based hand rub or sanitizers.
Social distancing is also an important precaution to prevent close contact with possible carriers of the virus. SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted through respiratory droplets when people cough, sneeze, or talk. Health experts also claim that the virus can stay in the air for hours, making airborne transmission possible.
The WHO has said people should maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) of distance between themselves and others, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 6 feet of distance. Further, people should avoid crowded places as much as possible, since many reported infection clusters have been tied to parties, religious gatherings, and get-togethers.
The WHO and other health agencies, such as the CDC, have urged people to wear masks when they go out in public places. Now, they also advise people to wear masks indoors in workplaces, malls, grocery stores, and other areas with poor airflow and ventilation.
Why hygiene is important in the workplace
Workplaces have been linked to outbreaks of COVID-19 infection. To prevent its spread, companies need to promote cleanliness and hygiene in their places of business. All workplace environments must be hygienic and safe, not only for employees but also for their visitors.
Good hygiene helps maintain a high quality of life, but it also contributes to keeping employees both healthy and happy. One of the best ways to ensure excellent workplace hygiene is to enact hygiene policies that should be followed by everyone.
A hygienic workplace provides many benefits, including boosted productivity, a safe working environment, and reduced employee absenteeism due to illness. Here’s a rundown of the ways to improve workplace hygiene and provide an ideal working environment that is safe, healthy, and secure.
Ways to improve workplace hygiene
1. Wash hands regularly
Regular handwashing is one of the best means to remove microorganisms, germs, and pathogens on the hands that can cause illness or infection. It can help prevent illness and limit the spread of germs to others, which is critically important in the midst of a pandemic.
In workplaces, implement handwashing guidelines and ensure employees follow them. Provide each floor with a clean washing area and a clean, well-ventilated comfort room. Staff should wash their hands regularly with good-quality soap, and clean running water should always be available.
In hospital settings, healthcare workers must perform handwashing before and after seeing a patient or performing a procedure. This helps prevent cross-contamination and infection. Also, healthcare workers must wash their hands with soap and water when they are visibly soiled, after caring for a person with known or suspected infectious diarrhea, and after known exposure to spores.
2. Use hand sanitizers
In case soap and water are not readily available, health experts urge people to use hand sanitizer. In workplaces, there should be hand sanitizer areas, plus a personal supply at each employee’s desk. The CDC recommends that everyone should use alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol.
Alcohol-based sanitizer works best when rubbed all over the hands, including between the fingers and on the backs of the hands. It is important to refrain from wiping or rinsing off the sanitizer before it dries.
In hospitals, each patient room should have a sanitizer dispenser at the door for visitors and healthcare workers to use both before entering and after leaving the room. Further, the CDC recommends using alcohol-based hand sanitizers in the hospital setting immediately before touching a patient, before performing an aseptic task or handling invasive medical devices, and immediately after glove removal.
The use of hand sanitizer is not recommended if the hands are visibly dirty or greasy. Handwashing with soap and water is still the best tool to remove dirt and debris on the hands.
3. Disinfect surfaces
The novel coronavirus and other types of viruses can dwell on surfaces for certain periods. It is important to disinfect and clean these surfaces to prevent the spread of the virus. Common areas in an office are places where workers take breaks and relax, so these areas should be cleaned regularly.
The WHO recommends using cleaning products to eradicate virus particles on surfaces and in items that are commonly used by everyone in the office or ward. These include tabletops, machines, telephone receivers, doorknobs, comfort rooms, and common areas. In hospitals, regular disinfection is crucial to prevent the spread of pathogens among patients.
Cleaning and disinfecting should be done regularly, as in every day when the employees are away. This way, every surface can be cleaned. By using antiseptic solutions, viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 can be killed and removed from surfaces.
4. Provide clean air
SARS-CoV-2 can stay in the air for a couple of hours, making indoor and closed spaces high-risk locations that may promote the spread of the virus. The CDC encourages employers and business owners to ensure that ventilation systems in the area operate properly.
Circulating air inside an area is dangerous, especially if there are asymptomatic carriers of the virus present. To address this problem, increase the circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors. Instead of air conditioning, use fans to keep the environment cool and comfortable.
The CDC urges employers to increase the percentage of outdoor air in the workplace, potentially as high as 100%. Given the seriousness of the current pandemic, employers should consider using natural ventilation to increase outdoor-air dilution of indoor air.
5. Set up a schedule
Aside from having a cleaning schedule for the workplace, it is important to limit the number of employees in the area to prevent virus spread. The pandemic has introduced the concept of a “new normal” where employees will have to adhere to infection control policies even once the virus has been brought under control (such as through a vaccine), since any such measure will only slow the spread of the coronavirus, not eradicate it.
Employers should determine a good scheduling process for employees wherein the number of people in an office at once will be kept at a reduced level. This way, workplaces can keep the spread of the infection at bay and prevent outbreaks.
6. Set up a garbage disposal system
Employers should provide adequate disposal bins in the workplace. Establish a garbage disposal system that ensures people know where and how to get rid of waste.
Dustbins should be placed in many locations, with adequate signage to let people know what should and should not go in the bins. It is also important to emphasize garbage segregation to make garbage disposal easier.
In healthcare settings, an estimated 16 billion injections are administered each year, but not all of them are disposed of properly. Hospitals must follow proper garbage disposal protocol, with non-biodegradable, biodegradable, and infectious waste products appropriately separated and disposed of.
7. Provide employee education
One of the most crucial steps in maintaining office hygiene is to educate employees about its importance. Before employees are hired, they should attend a seminar or a talk about hygiene and its benefits. Aside from that, the COVID-19 pandemic should be explained to the employees to ensure they have knowledge of the disease, how it spreads, and the associated risks.
Information dissemination is vital in promoting good hygiene among employees. If they know how important good hygiene is, they will more likely practice it not only at work, but also at home.
In hospital settings, healthcare workers obviously must be aware of and follow hygienic practices, but they should also educate patients, their caregivers, and their visitors on hygiene and preventive measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
8. Allow sick days
Many people believe that if they contract a viral infection, they can take medicine to eradicate it. However, we do not yet have treatments for most viral infections; the treatments we administer usually address the symptoms caused by the virus, rather than the virus itself. Most viruses are self-limiting, which means they eventually die out and the infection goes away on its own. This requires the infected person to get plenty of rest—more than they might think they need. Simply taking a single day off will not be enough.
Even once a person has recovered enough to no longer display symptoms of infection, that person may still be infectious. Employers need to allow sick days, even for simple illnesses like the flu and common cold (both of which are viral infections). This way, the workers cannot transmit the virus to others. In healthcare, nurses and doctors who are sick should not see patients until they have sufficiently recovered.
The Department of Labor says that employees are allowed sick days if they have worked for their employer for at least 12 months. Employers should let their employees rest when they are sick—aside from helping them regain their energy, this can reduce the risk of virus transmission.
9. Go green
A study published in the journal Public Health Reports suggests that nature contact, such as having a green office with plants, promotes a healthy workplace. Increasing nature contact at work offers a simple approach to improve employees’ moods and promote health.
Plants are natural relaxants, and they can help people feel comfortable and at ease by making the workspace more pleasant to occupy. Further, having plants in the workplace helps reduce stress, improve productivity, reduce sickness and absenteeism, and purify the air by filtering out dangerous toxins, among other benefits.
Everyone plays a role
Workplace hygiene is an important way to reduce the risk of illness among employees. Further, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is important to ensure that every employee complies with the guidelines on hygiene to promote cleanliness and reduce the risk of outbreaks in the office.
In healthcare settings, hand hygiene reduces the risk of nosocomial infections in patients, especially those who are immunocompromised. The staff should monitor handwashing rates in the ward to ensure that everyone practices it, especially before and after seeing or caring for a patient.
Derek Jones is VP Enterprise Strategy, Americas at Deputy, a global workforce management platform for employee scheduling, timesheets, and communication. He has over 16 years’ experience in delivering data-driven sales and marketing strategies to SaaS companies like MarketSource and Griswold Home Care.