May 05, 2014
May 5 is Hand Hygiene Day—what you can do in your workplace

With the first case of MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) in the United States in the news, it is interesting to notr that May 5 has been declared Hand Hygiene Day by the World Health Organization, with the theme SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands. The federal Centers for Disease Control says hand hygiene is a simple thing and is the best way to prevent infection and illness in the workplace.

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When common infectious diseases, such as Varicella (shingles/chicken pox), Tuberculosis, and MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) appear in the workplace, questions arise about whether it is safe for infected employees to be at work, according to a BLR article, “Infectious disease in the workplace: How employers can prevent spread of illness.” And what actions should employers take to prevent the spread of infectious disease in the workplace?

Though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have a specific standard that addresses infectious disease, preventing the spread of illness in the workplace is important for employers and employees alike. Employees who come to work while ill can infect others, and if the symptoms of an infectious disease cause an employee to become distracted or otherwise impaired, continuing to work while ill can compromise safety for everyone.

In another article, “Why are there more germs in the workplace?,” research studies are finding more germs on common surfaces, causing more illnesses. Germ expert Charles Gerba, PhD, professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, says that is because employees are touching more germy surfaces at work than ever before.

Then there’s the restroom. According to the article, Gerba and his colleagues conducted research in several cities. They camped out in office restrooms to see what goes on there, including at the sink. In one city, they found that two-thirds of people washed after using the facilities. Only about half of those used soap and, among those, just half washed for the recommended 15 to 20 seconds.

Gerba advises employers to train workers to think proactively about infection control. That means assuming that everyone is potentially infectious, that the environment is germ-laden, that workers are not using the best personal hygiene practices, and that the maintenance crew is not doing its job. That puts the individual in charge of washing, wiping, and overall vigilance—and hand hygiene.

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