As the Germ Girl, a big part of my job is helping companies prevent infectious contact in the workplace. And believe it or not, the most effective tool I have isn’t some magic chemical that nukes every germ in the universe or a technique that will keep a bathroom permanently disinfected (although how great would that be?). To be honest, the most effective tool I use—and the most effective tool any organization has to keep their employees and guests safe—is communication.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a lot of things—tragic, endless, costly, insert your negative adjective here. But as an infection prevention specialist, the one word I keep hearing from my clients is confusing. Should we work remotely or in person? Require masks or not? Test and if so how and how often? It can be difficult to know which way is up, or what you’re supposed to do in a given situation. So it’s important to do whatever you can to take the mystery out of your infection prevention protocols. That means following the best guidance you can, formulating a solid infection prevention plan, and then—and this is the important part—communicating that plan to everyone who will enter your workspace.
The best place to start this process is by determining your policies and procedures. What is expected of your employees or visitors as they come into the workplace? Before they arrive, you need to answer those confusing questions I mentioned above like,
• Should employees be masked or not masked?
• Should they take their temperature every day before coming to work?
• Is there a testing protocol and if so what?
Once you have the answers to those questions, those decisions become your plan. Your next step is to communicate that plan to every single employee or vendor or guest or FedEx delivery person who enters your facility. And since everyone processes information differently, and is attracted to different things, and has a different learning style, and since most people, regardless of learning style, tend to forget things like policies and procedures, you need to communicate these policies and procedures over and over again, in every different way you can think of, to appeal to all different kinds of people. For example:
• Text messages
• Powerpoint presentations
• Zoom calls
The point isn’t to drive people crazy, although you might feel like you are. The point is to make sure you don’t miss anybody, and that everybody knows what to do. You don’t want somebody to say, “I wasn’t in the office, so I didn’t see the poster” and have that be it. You don’t want to leave out an interactive component like a meeting or Zoom where people can ask questions to help them understand the information. You want to drill these policies in at every opportunity and through every possible medium, so they become second nature to your people. Not to be dramatic, but it could be a matter of life and death—or at the very least, a major inconvenience for your business.
The other place where communication is key is after an outbreak occurs at your facility. An outbreak, to be specific, is defined as a cluster of known cases, whether it is an area or a certain type of disease in a certain amount of time. When this happens, the key to miAgaAng the spread and preventing further infection is contact tracing with a proper alert system.
In my last blog post, I mentioned the importance of contact tracing as part of an overall infection prevention/mitigation plan. This is how it works:
• Whoever enters your business or event fills out a form with their name and contact number and preferred method of contact.
• The forms are kept very private, where no one but the HR person has access to them, for three months.
• After that, if nothing has happened, they’re shredded.
• However, if someone who was at the same event or at the business at the same time tests positive for Covid, that person’s form is pulled and they’re contacted and alerted that they may have been exposed.
When it comes to notifying your staff of an infection inside your place of business, I recommend using use an alert system where everyone who may have been anywhere remotely close to the person who tests positive is immediately notified. Honestly, at my company, we just notify everybody. We send out an email that says simply, “We’ve had somebody test positive,” or “We have somebody hospitalized,” and advise everyone to take the appropriate precautions. We don’t ever list the person’s name, or their position, or even say what part of the building they were in—which is the reason why we alert everybody. We do it this way to protect people’s privacy. It allows people to feel comfortable enough to come forward and be honest in the first place. It keeps those lines of communication open, which, at least until someone invents a chemical that destroys every germ in the universe, is the best tool we’ve got when it comes to infection prevention. So don’t be afraid to use it.