Shop Talk: Virus Prevention in the Workplace

Shop Talk: Virus Prevention in the Workplace

​​​​​​​​​​​COVID-19, colds, flus and other respiratory illnesses caused by viruses can be spread by workers, customers and clients who Hands being washed under a running faucet come into your workplace while sick.

Even people who have come into contact with a virus but are not showing symptoms could potentially spread illness. Respiratory illnesses can also be spread through contact with items contaminated by a virus. Some people may be affected more severely by viruses than others.

What's th​e hazard?

You can be exposed to a virus by inhaling respiratory droplets that enter the air when a person coughs or sneezes, or through close contact with a person who is sick.

You can also be exposed via your hands. Your hands touch hundreds of items each day, which include everything from door knobs and elevator buttons, to tools, equipment and work stations you share with your co-workers. If you touch an item that is contaminated with a virus, and then touch your face (particularly your eyes, nose, or mouth), you may become sick.

A virus invades your body and causes symptoms that your body's natural defence mechanisms must work to fight. Symptoms are varied, but may include a fever, cough, fatigue or sore throat. A virus is responsible for causing illnesses that include the common cold, influenza, and COVID-19.

What ca​​​n happen?

Grace, a supervisor at a busy mechanic shop, has just learned that her co-worker Tim is sick. Tim is at work, and is coughing and sneezing frequently. Grace noticed that he is wiping his nose with a tissue but not washing his hands. He is also coughing into his hand and then touching the tools and door handles that are used by everyone in the shop. Grace knows that this is not how we prevent the spread of illness.

Based on the scenario above, here are some questions that could be used to spark discussion:

  1. As a supervisor, what can Grace do to help prevent the spread of illness?

  2. What are some methods Tim can use to make sure he is doing his part to prevent the spread of illness?

What pre​cautions can be taken to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses in the workplace, including COVID-19 and influenza?


To help protect yourself and others from exposure to viruses, consider the following:
  • Wash your hands regularly using soap and warm water, or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (60-90% alcohol) if your hands are not visibly soiled.

  • Hands should be washed:

    • before eating or preparing meals

    • after using the washroom

    • when visibly soiled

    • after touching an animal

    • after coughing, sneezing or wiping your nose

    • after work

    • when caring for a person who is ill.

  • Manitoba Health recommends washing your hands with soap and water, or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer on your hands, for at least 15 seconds. Dry your hands thoroughly after washing.

  • Ensure your workplace has clean handwashing facilities, as well as alcohol-based hand sanitizer at various locations.

  • Avoid touching your face and avoid coming into close contact with any person showing symptoms of a respiratory illness. Keep a distance of two metres, or six feet.

  • A virus can live on surfaces for varying lengths of time. Make sure that surfaces and commonly touched items in the workplace are cleaned regularly with disinfectants. Follow the instructions provided by the product manufacturer to make sure you use disinfectants and wipes effectively. Health Canada provides a list of hard-​​surface disinfectants and hand sanitizers.

  • Practice cough etiquette (coughing into your elbow or a tissue).

  • Follow your workplace's policies and procedures on use of sick time and illness prevention measures.

  • Staying home if you are sick can help to minimize the spread of illness.

  • Be a hand hygiene and cough etiquette champion in your workplace. We can all do our part to prevent the spread of illness!

Other reso​urces:

Some additional resources on preventing the spread of respiratory viruses include:

Shar​​e your ideas!

If you have an idea for Shop Talk that you think others would benefit from, we'd like to hear about it. Email us: information@safeworkmanitoba.ca.

For m​ore information:

Call 204-957-SAFE (7233) or toll-free 1-855-957-SAFE (7233).

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