The most important way to reduce the spread of infections is hand washing - always wash regularly with soap and water. Also important is to get a vaccine for those infections and viruses that have one, when available.
See the OSH Answers Hand Washing - Reducing the Risk of Common Infections for more details.
This OSH Answers document will discuss other methods beyond hand washing that can also help to slow or stop the spread of infections.
Ways you can reduce or slow the spread of infections include:
Workplaces can help by:
In the event of a pandemic flu, the Public Health Agency of Canada states that wearing masks when face-to-face with coughing individuals will not be practical or helpful if the infection or virus has entered the community. Special handling of linen or waste contaminated with secretions from persons thought to be or who are sick is not required.
Additional measures may be required to minimize the virus from transmitting by hard surfaces (sinks, door and cupboard handles, railings, objects, counters, etc.). The length of time a virus survives on hard surfaces depends on the type of virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States indicates that "Most studies have shown that the flu virus can live and potentially infect a person for only 2 to 8 hours after being deposited on a surface." Other estimates range up to 24 and 48 hours.
In most workplaces and homes, cleaning floors, walls, doorknobs, etc. with regular disinfectants or soap and water is very adequate. In some workplaces, such as a hospital or health care facility, specific cleaning and disinfection steps are often required.
Social distancing is a strategy where you try to avoid crowded places, large gatherings of people or close contact with a group of people. In these situations, viruses can easily spread from person to person. In general, a distance of one metre (3 feet) will slow the spread of a disease, but more distance is more effective.
Should social distancing be recommended, steps to follow include:
Reasons to determine "fitness to work" may depend on a number of issues such as size or type of organization, job responsibilities of employees, ease of working from home (via internet connections, etc.).
Generally, employees should be allowed and encouraged to stay at home if they are not feeling well. However, in the event of a pandemic, use screening tools or a list of symptoms as a checklist. If employees are showing any signs, allow them to go or remain at home. If there is doubt if a person is sick, they should stay home until they feel well and are able to resume their regular activities.
NOTE: During a pandemic, information is likely to change rapidly. Please see the last question in the OSH Answers Pandemic Influenza for a list of agencies that can help.
Document last updated on June 6, 2014