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Good Hygiene Practices - Reducing the Spread of Infections and Viruses

What can I do to reduce the spread of "germs"?

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.

NOTE: During a situation where a virus is spreading in the community, information is likely to change rapidly. Please see OSH Answers on Pandemic Influenza and Coronavirus for more information.

What are good practices to slow the spread of infections?

Ways you can reduce or slow the spread of infections include:

  • Get the appropriate vaccine.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Practice physical distancing (staying more than 2 metres (6 feet) apart).
  • Stay home if you are sick (so you do not spread the illness to other people).
  • Use a tissue, or cough and sneeze into your arm, not your hand. Turn away from other people.
  • Use single-use tissues. Dispose of the tissue immediately.
  • Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing or using tissues.
  • If working with children, have them play with hard surface toys that can be easily cleaned.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth (viruses can transfer from your hands and into the body).
  • Do not share cups, glasses, dishes or cutlery.
  • Consider wearing a non-medical mask when in a public space.

What can a workplace do?

Workplaces can help by having an infection control plan which includes:

  • Having an infection control plan.
  • Providing clean hand washing facilities.
  • Offering alcohol-based hand sanitizers when regular facilities are not available (or to people on the road).
  • Providing boxes of tissues and encourage their use.
  • Providing disinfectant wipes, especially for use in common areas.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces more often, such as door knobs, handles, stair railings, bars, desks, phones, kitchens, shared computers, cash registers, elevator buttons, and restaurants tables/menus.
  • Reminding staff to not share cups, glasses, dishes and cutlery. Be sure dishes are washed in soap and water after use.
  • Removing magazines and papers from waiting areas or common rooms (such as tea rooms and kitchens).
  • Considering cleaning a person's workstation or other areas where they have been if a person has suspected or identified with an infection.
  • Making sure ventilation systems are working properly.
  • Wash hands after handling garbage.
  • When handling of linen contaminated with secretions from persons thought to be or are sick, wash using detergent and dry items completely. Do not shake dirty laundry. Perform hand hygiene afterwards.
  • Consider creating teams or crews (“cohorts”) of workers that will work together exclusively to reduce the spread of the virus.
  • Limit visitors. Reschedule or limit appointments with suppliers, vendors, service technicians and others where possible.

When cleaning and disinfecting, how should it be done?

Additional measures may be required to minimize the virus from transmitting by touch points (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 up to 48 hours after being deposited on a surface."

In most workplaces and homes, cleaning floors, walls, doorknobs, etc. with disinfectants or bleach solution (5 millilitres (mL) of (5%) bleach per 250 mL of water is recommended. Use a disinfectant with a drug identification number (DIN). This number means that it has been approved for use in Canada.

Follow the directions on the cleaning or disinfecting products. Wear personal protective clothing, such as gloves or eye protection, where required. Know the appropriate procedures for general sanitation and infection control, and how to work safely with hazardous products, including bleach.

If using gloves when cleaning, always wear the appropriate type of glove for the product you are using. No one glove material is resistant to all chemicals. Some chemicals will travel through or permeate the glove in a few seconds, while other chemicals may take days or weeks.

Information specifying the best type of chemical protective material is what should be on the safety data sheet (SDS) (e.g., glove material will be listed, such as neoprene, butyl rubber, natural rubber, etc.). If this information is missing, contact the supplier or manufacturer of the product. Manufacturers of chemical protective gloves and clothing may also assist their customers in making the appropriate choices.

For more information about wearing protective gloves, please see the OSH Answers document on Chemical Protective Clothing – Glove Selection.

What is meant by physical distancing?

Physical 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 two metres (6 feet) will slow the spread of a disease, but more distance is more effective.

When physical distancing is recommended, steps to follow include:

  • Use telephone, video conferencing, or the internet to conduct as much business as possible (including within the same building).
  • Allow employees to work from home, or to work flexible hours to avoid crowding the workplace.
  • Increase the distance between desks or work stations.
  • Increase the number of times touch points and surfaces are cleaned.
  • Cancel or postpone any travel, meetings, workshops, etc. that are not absolutely necessary.
  • Drive, walk, or cycle to work, but try to avoid public transit. Alternatively, workplaces can consider allowing staff to arrive early/late so they can use public transit when it is less crowded.
  • Allow staff to eat at their desks or have staggered lunch hours to avoid crowded lunch rooms.
  • Spend as little time as possible in tea rooms or photocopy centres.
  • When meetings are necessary, have the meeting in a larger room where people can sit with more space between them (at least two metres apart).
  • Avoid shaking hands or hugging.
  • Avoid crowded spaces.

What should a workplace do if an employee becomes ill at work?

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 of screening tools or a list of symptoms as determined by your public health agency as a checklist may be appropriate. 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.

If a person becomes ill at work and COVID-19 is suspected, they should:

  • report to first aid or ask for medical attention even if they have only mild symptoms.
  • wash or sanitize their hands, wear a mask, and isolate until they are able to return to their home. Where possible, return home in a private vehicle, not public transit.
  • contact your local public health authority or use a self-assessment tool for more information and instructions.
  • call 911 for assistance if the worker is severely ill (such as difficulty breathing or chest pain)

Clean and disinfect any surface or item that the ill worker has been in contact with.

Document last updated on July 10, 2020

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Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.