These are strange times indeed - this unprecedented pandemic is as worrying as it is serious - but we have to get on as best we can.
What can you do to help prevent a domino effect of an illness that can kill at worst or at best, shut down your operation down while everyone self-isolates for 2 weeks?
As with Cold and flu prevention at work, keeping everyone safe from the potential horrors of SARS-CoV-2 is a team effort. Everyone must play their part: Directors, Managers, Supervisors, Workers... even your customers and clients.
Here are some tips for the workplace to help you and your employees reduce the spread of Coronavirus in your business.
How Much Impact Could a Coronavirus Outbreak Have in a Workplace?
Although illnesses such as coughs, colds and the flu are relatively minor, they are actually the most common reason for sickness absence. In 2016, it was estimated that these minor illnesses accounted for 34 million working days lost.
Those are minor illness figures. If just 1 employee develops Covid-19, your entire workforce may have to self isolate for 14 days at least.
It only takes one person to fall ill to bring down a large group of employees with this terrible disease. What's more, your employees could be carrying Coronavirus from work back into their family home - and vice versa.
If a member of an employee's household takes ill, that employee must stay home for 14 days, and it is possible that other employees who have had contact would need to stay home too.
It is possible that your premises would then need to be "deep cleaned" - causing more expense and inconvenience to your business and customers.
What Measures Can You Take?
Whether it is an office, factory or a worksite, your employees are susceptible to any infection if they work in close quarters with each other. It only takes one infected person to spread bacteria or viruses to everyone else.
However, there are many actions you can take to help prevent or at least slow the spread of germs in your workplace.
Wash it, Bin it, Kill it
Remember that NHS slogan that is rolled out every time it is cold and flu season? There is a reason why it's so regularly broadcast. Cold and flu viruses are airborne - spread through droplets that are released into the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even breathes. Hand-to-mouth is the most common transmission, so eating, nail biting or touching the mouth area can all lead to infection.
Coronavirus is no different. Yes, it has brought the entire planet to a grinding halt, but it appears to be transmitted in much the same way. It is also vulnerable to the same methods of prevention.
Here's a some tips on how to prevent Coronavirus spreading in the workplace:
- Ensure employees wash their hands as soon as they arrive at work before they take get to their workstations
- Ensure employees wash their hands before and after breaks
- Ensure employees wash hands before entering any break rooms or recreation areas
- Ensure employees wash their hands before leaving work too
- Encourage the use of hand sanitiser
Encourage this by placing signs around the workplace that teach them how to wash their hands properly. If frequent hand-washing is not a realistic option, encourage the use of hand sanitiser - whether it means installing hand sanitiser pumps in the workplace or distributing pocket-sized bottles of antibacterial gel.
Even with an OCD like hand washing regime, touching door handles,. bannisters, switchs etc can also lead to contamination, so it is a good idea that each employee has hand sanitiser at their work station or in their pocket
Viruses tend to survive on hard surfaces for 24 hours, so encourage your employees to regularly wipe down surfaces using antibacterial wipes. Cleaning and disinfecting shared surfaces, such as phones, tables, keyboards and doorknobs, is a good way to prevent the spread of infection too.
You can't see these things, so it is best to assume they are always there.
Use Fresh Tissues and Cover Your Mouth and Nose
Coughing and sneezing are inevitable, so if you have to do it, always cover your mouth and nose. It sounds like such a little thing to do, but it is very effective. As the virus is airborne through respiratory droplets, covering your nose and mouth reduces the chance of it being expelled into the air and onto a surface or person. The NHS recommends that you cover your mouth and nose with a tissue and then throw that tissue away immediately, in order to prevent the virus from transferring to the surface you put it down on.
If there is no tissue available, use the crook of your elbow or hands and ensure you wash them straight away - whether it is with antibacterial gel or at a sink with soap.
Wear a Face Mask or Covering
Anything that can reduce the amount of respiratory droplets expelled is a good thing. When the pandemic first took hold, there was a mad rush for dust masks to try and stop the virus getting into people's lungs. Unfortunately, even an FFP3 dust mask can't filter out a virus completely.
The truth is, unless you're going full HazMat, you need to rely on social distancing, washing your hands, and hoping for the best.
What you CAN do is help others is encourage all employees to wear a face mask to catch their own breath, coughs and droplets of spit. If everyone does this, the spread would drop significantly. Hence calls for face masks on public transport.
Encourage Vaccination When It Arrives
The flu jab is one of the most effective ways to prevent the flu and actually reduces chances of infection by 60%, depending on age.
Unfortunately there is no vaccine for SARS-COV-2 Coronavirus yet. Science is working on it, but for now, humanity is on it's own.
When it does appear, vaccination will be the single best chance anyone has of remaining health should they catch the virus. Employers should encourage vaccination as soon as possible.
Your Employees Health Comes Before Everything Else
As soon as a sick member of staff enters the workplace, they are putting the other healthy workers at risk of illness. What could have been a few days off for that employee could spiral into multiple days off for dozens of other employees.
It is important that you remind your employees that they should never be hesitant to self-isolate because they think management might be against it.
Of course, doing this relies on being able to trust your colleagues to know when they are ill or have come into contact with Coronavirus. Communication goes hand in hand with a healthy, productive team, so make it clear that employees' health comes before anything else by creating a protocol for such an eventuality and communicating it effectively to your workforce.
As well as this, you should be on alert for symptoms within your staff. Sometimes a cold or flu can be contracted in the middle of the working day, and someone may mistake this for Coronavirus. In these cases, ensure that person has everything they need to actively prevent spreading the infection - for example, face mask, antibacterial gel, wipes and tissues - and isolate them if possible. They might not want to go home if they feel it is just a sniffle or hayfever, so you could give them different duties that moves them away from the rest of the workforce.
Keep Your Staff Protected to Protect Your Business
There are many other factors you need to think about in order to keep your employees and your business protected. A healthy workplace is a productive one, but in these times, productivity may need to take a short tewrm hit to prevent a long term tragedy.