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Disease Prevention in the Workplace

From swine flu to norovirus, infectious diseases are always a top concern for facilities managers. For Saree Couture, a facilities manager for the city of Billings, Mont., disease prevention is “a never-ending battle.”

“What concerns people is always changing,” Couture says. “It just kind of depends on what’s ‘trending.’”

Couture, who manages a dozen facilities, including numerous fire stations and police stations, relies on her staff of 15 custodians to handle biohazards and harmful bodily fluids in addition to common bacteria and viruses. “Disease prevention comes down to keeping the basics in place,” she says.

Here are some tips from Couture and other professionals on how to run a healthy facility.

Share Knowledge

Having a knowledgeable custodial staff that follows a strict cleaning regiment is key to maintaining a healthy facility all year, especially from October to May, the period prone to seasonal flu activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Couture updates her staff by posting important announcements such as new procedure information and virus outbreak updates on bulletin boards.

For Maureen Bayliss, RN, Director of Service for The Kingstree Group, a disability management firm in Wayne, Pa., this means sending out email blasts about potential virus outbreaks and possible symptoms, coupled with prevention tips to approximately 90 employees who work onsite and remotely.

Be Able to Act Quickly

Sometimes disease prevention means reacting quickly to a situation. Couture found out that a stab wound victim was released from a local hospital and came into the police station to be interviewed. Later the police received a call from the hospital that the victim had the staph germ MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Anything he touched was potentially contaminated with MRSA.

Couture says her staff re-traced the man’s steps and used a disinfectant to clean every surface from floor to ceiling.

Create a Cleaning Checklist

Couture has adopted a daily checklist for her staff at every facility to help them remember all the basics for keeping a facility clean. Because their jobs are so repetitive, Couture says it’s easy for custodial staff to get complacent. “The best thing I’ve done is create a routine and a checklist to have custodial staff follow-up with,” she says.

That list includes using hydrogen peroxide wipes on door handles, sinks, food-handling areas and doors. “You’d be surprised how many people use ineffective products to kill viruses,” Couture says.

To help with disease prevention, Couture’s staff also stopped using traditional rag mops and switched to flat microfiber mops and pads that they can wash in a washing machine.

Go Antimicrobial

According to an independent study verified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), another way to eliminate workplace germs is to install antimicrobial copper hardware and tables. A recent study found that the most contaminated surfaces in offices tend to be break room sink handles, microwave door handles, keyboards, refrigerator door handles, and water fountain and vending machine buttons, says Archelle Georgiou, a physician and president of Georgiou Consulting, a health care consultancy in Minneapolis. Focusing in on these germ hot spots has the potential to improve overall workplace wellness, Georgiou says.

Encourage Hand Washing

Although it might sound like common sense, hand-washing is the number one way to halt the spreading of pathogens, according to the CDC. Unfortunately, not everyone practices this simple hygiene measure. A 2010 study by the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute found that 93 percent of women and 77 percent of men wash their hands after using the restroom.

Offer the Flu Shot

Giving occupants access to flu shots is another way to reduce workplace illness, says Michelle McHugh, Ph.D., an environmental and occupational health expert for the Facility Management Journal, a publication of the International Facility Management Association. Consider offering an incentive for employee who get a flu shot a flu shot, or have an organization come out and provide the flu shots, McHugh suggests.

Offer Wellness Workshops

Wellness workshops are a great way to educate employees on the most effective wellness techniques, from fitness plans to stress-management methods. Instead of leaving workshops to the discretion of individual offices, try organizing mass seasonal workshops with the managers or executives in your facility, McHugh suggests.

Although individuals need to take control of their personal health and wellness, preventing disease in the workplace is a team effort — and it can start with your facility.


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