During cold and wet weather, it is vital that medical staff have effective hygiene standards in place, in order to reduce the risk of infections at work such as colds, flu and other illnesses. Dr Peter Barratt and Luke Rutterford discuss ways that employers can minimise the risks.
Employees can become increasingly vulnerable to infections in the winter months, especially in premises where there is a high density of people with the potential for a variety of illnesses.
Contagious infections, such as norovirus and the common cold, are often passed from person to person through indirect contact; for example, via an infected person’s environment or personal belongings. This ease of transmission tends to make them much more prevalent.
However, simple hygiene steps, such as regular and thorough hand washing, are effective ways to prevent them from spreading.
Even personal items, such as phones, handbags and computers that come into regular contact with our hands, bring with them a high risk of cross-contamintion and the spread of germs from one surface to another.
With around 80% of diseases transmissible through touch, and flu viruses living on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours, this makes it even more important for employees in the medical and care sectors to clean their hands and surroundings regularly.
Previous research undertaken by Initial Washroom Hygiene and the Centre for Economic and Business Research revealed that 47% of illnesses can be reduced by effective hand washing, making it by far the most simple way to stop infection from spreading in the workplace.
To be completely sure of minimising the risk of spreading viruses, use hand sanitiser after hand washing and drying, especially after using medical equipment. This means that if someone else has forgotten to wash their hands before handling such equipment, then you will not indirectly pick up bacteria and viruses that they may have inadvertently deposited.
To ensure the sanitation of medical equipment, specialist deep cleaning also needs to be carried out on both a proactive and reactive basis (neither work on their own) to reduce the opportunity for cross-infection to occur.
Routine cleaning of shared contact points and communal areas is essential, as is reactive disinfection as soon as a recognised infection is presented by a patient or a visitor. If that person is known to have inhabited a certain area, then that area should also be disinfected prior to its re-use.
Providing a clean and safe environment ensures that the risk to residents from healthcare-associated infections is kept to a minimum. The sheer size of the area that needs to be kept clean and the vast number of people (staff, residents and visitors) passing through makes keeping hospitals and other healthcare facilities hygienic a challenging, yet important, task. In order to be successful, it is essential that employees continue to practice good hand hygiene and keep their facilities clean in order to reduce the risk of infection.
As a further aid to minimising airborne cross-infections, simple and standalone air-disinfection units can be employed in busy areas. These are inconspicuous units that recirculate air past ultraviolet (or similar) disinfection devices and help to reduce airborne bacteria and viruses.
Six ways to stop infections
Initial Washroom Hygiene advises that employees should take note of the following steps in order to improve hygiene standards in the workplace:
- Encourage staff to practice good hand hygiene by regularly washing their hands with good-quality soap throughout the day. It is recommended that you should wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing happy birthday twice (approximately 30 seconds). Thorough hand washing helps to reduce and remove potentially harmful bacteria and viruses, especially if the time and quality of washing is appropriate, and your hands are dried well after washing.
- Aside from encouraging staff to regularly wash and dry their hands, hand sanitisers should always be openly available in public areas. The most effective are those that are not alcohol based, such as Initial’s UltraProtect, which forms a gentle but long-lasting barrier to microbes. They inactivate germs for hours after use and protect against a wide range of bacteria and viruses, including norovirus.
- Ensure regular, thorough surface cleaning takes place in all communal areas. It is recommended that healthcare facilities are professionally deep cleaned at least twice a year to prevent the build-up of hidden embedded dirt and contamination, and the associated microorganisms. Again, specialist surface cleaners give long-lasting protection of surfaces against reinfection.
- If a member of staff does contract a virus, such as norovirus, make sure they stay away from work for at least 48 hours after the symptoms have disappeared, to avoid wider contamination and transmission of the virus. Employing air disinfection devices can help alleviate the chance of widespread illness.
- Ensure that storage rooms, refuse areas, canteens and changing rooms are cleaned regularly using antibacterial wipes and surface sanitisers.
- If an outbreak of illness does occur, then it is essential that managers get in touch with a specialist cleaning provider, such as Rentokil Specialist Hygiene, as soon as possible. Their professionally trained technicians can sanitise areas quickly and efficiently, and are experienced and fully equipped to provide specialist disinfection services.