The management of an organization provides the leadership, vision, and resources that are needed to operate. Management leadership includes business owners, managers, and supervisors. As a member of the management leadership, you will play an especially important role when establishing an effective hygiene and illness prevention program.
There is no specific OSHA standard or regulation covering workplace hygiene and illness prevention. However, employers must still meet the requirements of the general duty obligation clause under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The general duty obligation clause requires employers to provide a workplace to employees "free from recognized hazards." Infectious diseases in the workplace, such as the flu or COVID-19, represent potential hazards in the workplace. An employer would be expected to recognize and establish policies and procedures to eliminate or control the hazards. A workplace hygiene and illness prevention program can help an employer meet the general duty obligation requirement.
Management leadership is responsible for communicating a clear, comprehensive, written safety and health policy that defines the standards and expectations of the organization. A workplace hygiene and illness prevention program help achieve the organization's broader safety and health program goals. A workplace hygiene and illness prevention program endorsed by top management helps ensure employees understand the importance of the program and the policies it defines.
Starting a formal workplace safety and health program can be a daunting task. If your organization finds itself in this situation, consider developing a workplace hygiene and illness prevention program first. This allows management leadership to gain experience developing and implementing a smaller program before tackling the more extensive workplace safety and health program.
As part of the leadership team, you should model the desired behavior expected of employees, being visible in operations, and following the same hygiene and illness policies and procedures. Begin meetings by reviewing hygiene and illness policies, procedures, or performance indicators. Meetings are an excellent opportunity to communicate as well as gather information about your workplace hygiene and illness prevention program.
Clearly defined program goals and objectives allow top management to set expectations for managers, supervisors, and workers. Goals and objectives should focus on specific actions that will improve hygiene and prevent illness within your organization.
Make sure hygiene and illness prevention goals are realistic and measurable. If you can't measure the goal, how will you know if it is working? Goals should focus on prevention rather than injury or illness rates.
Example goal: Achieve a 95% handwashing compliance rate by the end of the first quarter.
Develop plans to help you achieve your hygiene and illness prevention goals. Assign specific tasks and responsibilities to individuals with defined timelines. If you assign tasks to a group or committee, make sure a single individual is primarily responsible. This allows you to hold individuals accountable for the work they are assigned.
When developing your plan, be sure to identify the resources you will need to successfully design, implement, operate, monitor, and evaluate your program.
Management can demonstrate their commitment to safety and health by providing the resources needed to implement a program and pursue program goals and objectives.
You can accomplish your program goals and objectives by:
The resources needed will vary depending on your organization. Resources may include:
Ensure access to information and tools such as:
An effective hygiene and illness prevention program will be most effective in an open and positive work environment.
You can create an open and positive work environment by:
It is essential for management to clearly define roles and responsibilities, so employees understand what is expected of them. When roles and responsibilities are not clearly defined, employees can become fearful or anxious.
If an employee is not meeting their responsibility, management should make sure they are providing the necessary resources and support before considering disciplinary action.
A workplace hygiene policy is used to communicate to employees and guests safe work practice and administrative controls used to reduce the likelihood of disease transmission within the workplace. Administrative controls are typically policies or procedures designed to reduce or minimize exposure to a hazard. Work practice controls are procedures that help reduce the risk of exposure to infectious diseases.
Administrative controls you could use in your policy include:
Safe work practices you could use in your policy include:
Handwashing is a safe work practice control that has been shown to significantly reduce workplace absenteeism and healthcare claims. An effective handwashing policy can reduce the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 31% and reduce respiratory illnesses in the general population by 21%.
As a component of the overall hygiene policy, a handwashing policy can be used to establish expectations and guidelines for employees and guests. It is important to educate employees and guests on the importance of handwashing as a preventative safe workplace practice aimed at reducing the spread of infectious diseases.
To prevent the spread of infectious diseases, employees and guests are required to wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use alcohol-based hand rubs upon entering a company facility. Additionally, employees and guests are expected to wash their hands or use alcohol-based rubs after blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing into their hands, or coming into contact with contaminated objects or surfaces.
Often overlooked, poor nail hygiene can contribute to the spread of infectious diseases caused by pinworms, bacteria, and viruses. Pinworms are small, thin, white roundworms that sometimes live in the colon and rectum of humans. Pinworm infection is the most common worm infection in the United States.
To prevent the spread of germs and nail infections, employees are advised to keep nails short and trim them often. Employees and guests should scrub the underside of nails with soap and water during hand washing. When using alcohol-based rubs, ensure the underside of nails is thoroughly exposed to the rub. Employees should avoid biting and chewing nails.
Many infectious diseases, such as the flu and COVID-19, are spread through micro-droplets released from the upper respiratory tract through coughing or sneezing. These droplets float through the air until they are either inhaled by another person or land on nearby surfaces. Employees should demonstrate proper cough etiquette to reduce the spread of these micro-droplets and the transmission of infectious diseases.
Employees and guests should cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, or cough and sneeze into their elbow or upper sleeve(s). Dispose of used tissues in "no-touch" wastebaskets.
Routine cleaning can help prevent the spread of infectious diseases in the workplace. Routinely clean frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, doorknobs, phone handles, timeclocks, cabinet and drawer handles, microwaves, and refrigerator handles. Provide disposable disinfecting wipes to allow employees to wipe down surfaces before each use.
To support a healthy and clean work environment, employees should routinely clean frequently touched surfaces within their workspace. A designated person will be assigned the responsibility to clean shared workspaces every shift change. Employees are encouraged to use disposable disinfectant wipes to clean commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, kitchen-related handles) before each use.
Management should evaluate upcoming employee travel plans to identify potential infectious disease outbreaks that may pose a risk to employees. Employers have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of employees, even while traveling. Check the CDC's Traveler's Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for international travel.
Employees should check themselves for symptoms of an acute illness before starting travel and promptly notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick. The employee should contact a healthcare provider for advice, if needed.
Employees should not travel if sick.
Employees should not travel if sick.
Employees who become sick while traveling should promptly notify their supervisor and contact a healthcare provider for advice. If outside the United States, sick employees should follow their company's policy for obtaining medical care. A U.S. consular officer can help employees locate healthcare services in foreign countries.
It is essential for management to have an emergency plan in place in the event an employee becomes sick and requires medical evacuation while traveling.
Important note: U.S. embassies, consulates, and military facilities do not have the legal authority, capability, and resources to evacuate or give medicines, vaccines, or medical care to private U.S. citizens overseas.
An illness prevention policy is used to communicate to employees and guests what to do if they come down with symptoms of an illness. The policy should include what to do if an employee or guest becomes ill at home or work, and the steps management will take when notified by an employee or guest of illness. The goal of the illness prevention policy is to prevent transmission of an infectious disease to other employees or guests.
An illness prevention policy should incorporate engineering controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect employees and guests from infectious diseases. Engineering controls isolate employees from potential hazards, preventing exposure from occurring. At the same time, PPE is used as a last line of defense against exposure to potential hazards. Engineering controls, followed by administrative controls, and safe work practices are considered more effective and are preferred over the use of PPE.
Engineering controls you could use in your policy include:
PPE you could use in your policy include:
Employers are obligated to provide their workers with the PPE needed to keep them safe while performing their jobs. The types of PPE required during an infectious disease outbreak, such as COVID-19, will be based on the risk of being infected while working and job tasks that may lead to exposure. Employers should check the OSHA and CDC websites regularly for updates about recommended PPE.
When using personal protective equipment in the workplace:
Employers are responsible for ensuring employees are adequately trained in the proper usage, cleaning, and storage of PPE.
Encourage sick employees to stay home. Employees who have symptoms of an acute illness should stay at home and not come to work until they are free of fever, signs of a fever, and any symptoms for at least 24 hours without the aid of fever-reducing or symptom-altering medicines.
As with employees, guests who have symptoms of an acute illness should stay home and not visit your workplace until they are free of any symptoms for at least 24 hours without the aid of fever-reducing or symptom-altering medicines. This policy should be communicated to guests before their scheduled visit. If a guest arrives at your workplace and displays symptoms of an acute illness, you should separate them from others and ask them to reschedule their visit.
Important Note: During an infectious disease outbreak, such as COVID-19, employers should follow the recommendations of the CDC to determine how long an employee or guest should wait before returning to the workplace.
If employees display symptoms of an acute illness while at work, they should immediately notify their supervisor. The sick employee should be separated from other employees and sent home immediately by their supervisor. Separating the sick employee from others will help reduce the likelihood of disease transmission.
If employees display respiratory symptoms, such as a cough, provide them with a mask and ask them to wear it if they can tolerate doing so. The purpose of the mask is to help prevent the spread of a respiratory infection to others while they gather their belongings before going home. If a mask is not available, encourage them to use proper cough etiquette. Remember, sick employees should be sent home. Wearing a mask does not allow them to continue to work.
If an employee is sent home after reporting symptoms of an acute illness, the supervisor should ensure the employee's workspace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs, are cleaned using a disinfecting cleaning solution.
Symptoms of acute illness may include, but are not limited to:
It is important for management to have a response plan in place in the event of an infectious disease outbreak. An outbreak is a sudden rise in the number of disease cases. Examples of recent disease outbreaks include the 2009 Swine Flu and the 2020 COVID-19 (Coronavirus).
To increase the effectiveness of an infectious disease outbreak response (IDOR) plan, include employees during the development and review of the plan. You can use mock exercises to identify gaps or problems in the plan that need to be corrected. Train employees and explain human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits available.
In the event of a disease outbreak, management should:
Having an established infectious disease outbreak response plan will help your company respond effectively.
An employer-sponsored vaccination program can reduce employee absenteeism, improve workplace productivity, and improve organization morale.
Vaccines contain the same viruses that cause disease, but they have been either killed or weakened to the point that they don't make you sick. Some vaccines only contain viral fragments and not the entire virus.
A vaccine stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies as if you were exposed to the actual disease. After getting vaccinated, a person develops immunity to that disease, without having to get the disease first. Unlike most medicines that are used to treat or cure diseases, vaccines prevent them.
Encourage employees to receive the flu vaccine by hosting flu vaccination clinics. Hosting a flu vaccination clinic can help remove some of the obstacle’s employees face, which prevents them from participating.
Encourage employees by:
If your organization is unable to host an on-site clinic, consider establishing policies that allow employees to take an hour or two to go off-site to receive the flu vaccination.
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