There have been a number of high-profile outbreaks of infections, diseases, and viruses in recent history, from the 2009 swine-flu pandemic to the Ebola outbreaks that have been on-going in West Africa since 2014.
Not all outbreaks are international or even national in scale, however, some are much smaller and closer to home. The risk of localised outbreaks in workplaces still need to be managed, despite the fact they don’t threaten the world’s order, to maintain productivity and avoid escalation into a more serious problem.
How exactly do you manage the risks of outbreaks occurring in your workplace? That’s what we’re here to help with.
What is an outbreak?
The first thing to do is to identify what exactly an outbreak means in your circumstances. Generally, an outbreak can be defined as a linked group of individuals (colleagues, for example) developing symptoms associated with a communicable disease. These symptoms will be shared by several people but might not be identical.
A potential outbreak, or outbreak risk, then, can be defined as a situation where a group of individuals are exposed to a setting or activity that puts them at risk of contracting a communicable disease.
Generally, outbreaks can be split into minor and major occurrences. Minor outbreaks should be able to be managed internally while major outbreaks will likely require resources or assistance from external specialists or emergency services.
How to identify outbreak risks
Prevention is the best cure, especially in cases of potential outbreaks. Instead of focusing all your energy on determining how to counter the effects of an outbreak, it’s important that you dedicate time to creating systems to identify and prevent them in the first place.
Thorough risk assessments are the best way of identifying all potential workplace risks, whether they’re related to the outbreak of disease or not. By creating a risk assessment process that is used to carry out regular checks of potential hazards in the workplace, you’ll become aware of any risks that need to be considered.
This should include identification of potential outbreak risks, from lack of proper PPE to the proximity of effective decontamination tools and cleaning products in high-risk areas.
How to prevent outbreaks from occurring
Once a risk assessment has been carried out, you should be aware of high-risk areas where the potential dangers of an outbreak occurring are concentrated.
Since a large number of communicable diseases are spread through germs, hand washing is the biggest factor in preventing a workplace outbreak. By encouraging serious hand-washing practices and making hand sanitiser readily available in all areas of outbreak risk, you can instantly cut down on the chances of outbreaks occurring.
Other cleaning products such as germicidal wipes, hard surface sanitiser, and even electrostatic sprayers will keep workplaces clean and sanitary, again reducing the chances of infections, diseases, or contaminants spreading and causing an outbreak. Cleaning efforts should be concentrated in high-risk areas or ‘touch hot-spots’ but should also extend to the entire workplace. Just one employee that not taking proper precautions could spread germs to a perceived low-risk area of the workplace, so make sure not to neglect the proper cleaning of the entire workplace.
How to manage outbreaks
If outbreak risk identification and prevention measures fail, and an outbreak does occur, there are several things that should be done to manage and mitigate the effects.
The first is to make sure the outbreak is reported to the relevant authorities. The government has issued guidelines on how to complete an outbreak report, and for which diseases it’s necessary. Reporting outbreaks is important to make sure that they don’t escalate further. It might be deemed necessary in some cases for external specialists to intervene, but they need to know what’s happened first.
Other big factors are decontaminating and cleaning, and they should be carried out as soon as possible after an outbreak is identified. When it’s clear that employees have contracted a communicable disease from the workplace or their colleagues, a full deep clean of the potentially affected areas can prevent the outbreak from continuing to affect workers. Having a full stock of cleaning chemicals and janitorial equipment at all times is essential to make sure you’re not caught short-handed.
Finally, you should carry out follow-up checks on any individuals affected by the outbreak. If they have contracted a communicable disease, they should obviously be allowed to leave the workplace until it’s passed. Checking in on them while they’re absent will allow you to keep up with their progress and stay updated on their suitability for work.