3 Ways to Keep Your Workplace Clean During Coronavirus Scare

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3 Ways to Keep Your Workplace Clean During Coronavirus Scare
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Coronavirus cases have hit the U.S., and employers and employees alike are concerned about how the virus may spread through the workplace.

Serious respiratory illnesses are generally spread through coughing or sneezing, touching objects with contaminated hands, and touching your face after touching contaminated objects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Keeping the workplace clean can inhibit the spread of communicable diseases. In addition to limiting exposure to the new strain of coronavirus—known as COVID-19—taking the following steps can help prevent the spread of the flu and other viruses.

1. Wash Your Hands

"Emphasize hand-washing year-round and highlight it during flu season," suggested Howard Mavity, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Atlanta. "Creatively keep the need fresh on employees' minds."

The CDC has said that keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps to avoid the spread of germs. The agency recommends washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Employers can print and post CDC fact sheets that remind employees when to wash their hands, including:

  • After using the bathroom.
  • Before, during and after food preparation.
  • Before eating food.
  • After blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • After caring for someone who is sick or after changing a child's diaper.
  • After handling pets or other animals or their food and waste.
  • After touching garbage.

Employees should use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available, noted Sean Paisan, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Orange County, Calif.

The CDC said alcohol-based hand sanitizers should contain 60 percent to 95 percent alcohol, but washing with soap and water is preferable, particularly if hands are visibly dirty.

How can employers help? The CDC suggests that employers provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace and ensure that adequate supplies are maintained.

"Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene," the CDC said. Employers should also consider providing tissues and touch-free trash bins.

2. Practice Sneezing and Coughing Etiquette

Considering how similar viruses spread, people infected with COVID-19 may be spreading the virus through respiratory secretions when they cough or sneeze, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). "There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features associated with COVID-19 as the outbreak investigation continues," the agency stated on its webpage, noting that existing OSHA standards apply to protecting workers from COVID-19.

The CDC noted that previous outbreaks of coronavirus have spread through close contact with sick people. "A critical time to practice good hygiene etiquette is when you are sick, especially when coughing or sneezing."

To help prevent the spread of germs, the CDC recommends:

  • Avoiding coughing or sneezing into your hands.
  • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or upper sleeve when you cough or sneeze.
  • Putting used tissue in a wastebasket.

3. Clean Your Workstation

Employers should encourage employees and housekeeping staff to routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as keyboards, remote controls, desks, countertops and doorknobs.

Will regular cleaning products kill the bug? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said coronaviruses are among "the easiest to kill with the appropriate disinfectant product." But the EPA noted that emerging viral pathogens are less common and predictable than established pathogens, so few EPA-registered disinfectant products specifically target them. Credible products may not yet carry a label promising to kill COVID-19.

The CDC recommended using the cleaning agents that are usually used to clean work surfaces, doorknobs and countertops and to follow the directions on the label. The agency also suggested that employers provide disposable wipes so that workers can easily wipe down commonly used surfaces.

A best practice, however, is to avoid contact with people who are sick. "If you are ill, you should try to distance yourself from others so you do not spread your germs," the CDC said. 

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