Infection Control in the workplace

August 5th, 2011

In Australia last year, 75% of all absentee days at work were a direct result of sickness. Absentee days cost the economy an estimated $30 billion annually, so reassessing infection control in the workplace could prove to be an extremely valuable exercise for your business. Hendra virus is an example of how the spread of infection can bring entire industries to their knees, and provides further evidence supporting the close control of infection.

What is infection?

Infectious diseases include parasitic disease, and can be either work-related or non work-related. Here, we’ll focus on infectious diseases caused by occupational factors, however this can be difficult to establish as type and circumstance of infection are not always clear.

With potentially hundreds of different types of infections to consider, we should narrow the focus to include only more common or important infectious diseases in Australia. This way we’ll have relevant procedures, while also understanding there is a vast number of disease types.

Methods of control

Method depends on the nature of the infectious disease. The following are more common or serious in an Australian workplace:

  • Q-fever
  • Leptospirosis
  • Brucellosis
  • Anthrax
  • Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/AIDS
  • Legionellosis
  • Tuberculosis

Depending on the disease, vaccination, standard and additional precautions, hand-washing, education, training and/or the use of personal protective equipment are the main control strategies. Ensure all employees are fully vaccinated for any infectious diseases they are most at risk of contracting. This is linked to showing people why vaccinations are important through education and training of both workers and employees. Understanding how disease spreads will encourage hygienic practices.

Application in the workplace

These control measures make sense, but why are effective prevention measures still not used to an optimal level in Australian workplaces? There is no reason to let disease invade and run its course, which can lead to fatalities in extreme cases. Occupations that are known to have a higher risk of infectious diseases, such as the health care, child care, agricultural or veterinarian industries, should focus on this aspect of their health and safety plan.

Hendra virus Case Study

For veterinarians, the risk of becoming infected with Hendra virus in the workplace has increased significantly in recent months. Control measures have been altered as a result, with increased use of full-body protection gear and hygiene practices when working with potential cases of the virus.

In this case, the control measure of vaccination is not available, resulting in more emphasis being placed on other methods. Education, training and research of the virus have increased dramatically with government funding, to ensure everyone at risk gets the latest information about best protection.

Sick days might seem to occur every now and then, but the statistics suggest it’s more than we realise. Investing in education, awareness, hygiene, vaccination and personal protection will pay for itself in the long run. Healthy workers are for more effective and happy, so ensure the workplace is as disease free as possible.