Every year, millions of Americans contract infectious diseases that can result in staggering health care costs, reduced workplace productivity and adverse or even fatal outcomes. At a time when new infections such as SARS have appeared, it is important to remember that many life-threatening infectious illnesses can be prevented by adhering to simple principles of infection control both in the workplace and at home.
Because of the world-wide concern regarding the spread of viruses, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) has chosen the prevention of infectious diseases as the focus of its annual Labor Day CheckList. The 2003 checklist, Control of Infectious Diseases, is posted on the ACOEM Web site at www.acoem.org/pdfs/2003LaborDayCheckList.pdf.
The checklist recommends ways to curtail the spread of infectious diseases. It summarizes several steps employees can take to reduce the chances that they, a family member or a colleague will unnecessarily contract an infectious illness. Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, washing your hands frequently and properly, storing foods at correct temperatures, and receiving an annual flu vaccination if you are in a high-risk category, are only a few of the steps listed in the easy-to-read table format for employers and employees.
"With current emerging infections, such as SARS, that remind us how easily potentially deadly viruses can be passed from person to person, it is worth reviewing the very basic principles of infection control," states Mark Russi, MD, chair of ACOEM's Committee on Infectious Diseases and author of this year's CheckList. "Follow the suggested measures for employers and employees alike to reduce workplace transmissions of infectious illness and adhere to steps that can be taken at home as well."
ACOEM recommends employers hold education programs to teach employees basic principles of infection control, including handwashing, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, properly handling/preparing food, receiving appropriate immunizations and preventing the spread of respiratory illnesses. The group also recommends employers:
- Display signs that encourage handwashing prior to and after eating, preparing food, using the restroom or whenever hands become soiled: and
- Provide adequate facilities for handwashing. Consider alcohol-based hand sanitizers as an alternative to soap and water as appropriate.