Safeguard workers against staph infections

A staph infection is caused by staph bacteria, commonly carried on the skin. These infections can be effectively treated with antibiotics, but some staph infections may be more difficult to resolve because they are resistant to antibiotics. MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is one of these.

Since the 1970s, the number of staph infections caused by MRSA has increased dramatically. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) reports that employers from many different industries have shown concern over how they can prevent these types of infections in the workplace.

Often, staph infections are not serious and may show up as minor pimples or boils, but these can become more severe and cause pain, pneumonia, surgical wound infections, or bloodstream infections. While the vast majority of staph infections are treated successfully with no long-term issues, some staph infections, particularly MRSA infections, can be life-threatening. This is why it is important to take precautions to prevent the spread of staph bacteria.

Staph bacteria are spread through direct contact with others or contact with shared objects or surfaces. Infections occur most often in healthcare settings but can happen in any workplace. There are some environmental factors that make staph more likely to be transmitted. The Center for Disease Control refers to these as the “Five C’s.” They include:

• Crowding
• Contact – frequent skin-to-skin contact
• Compromised skin – such as cuts or abrasion
• Contaminated items
• Cleanliness concerns – including a lack of housekeeping or hygiene

The five C’s are common in worksites such as correctional facilities, daycare centers, schools, dormitories, athletic facilities, and military barracks.

The best way for employees to reduce the risk of staph infections is to practice good hygiene. This includes:

• Covering cuts and wounds with a bandage until completely healed
• Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers
• Avoiding contact with other workers’ bandages and wounds
• Not sharing personal items such as uniforms, personal protective equipment like safety goggles, gloves, and protective clothing, or grooming tools
• Washing soiled uniforms, clothing, sheets, towels, and other materials with water and laundry detergent. Dry clothes completely in a hot dryer to help kill bacteria
• Cleaning contaminated surfaces, tools, and equipment with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved disinfectants or detergent-based cleaning products

Employers can help to reduce the spread of staph by:

• Providing adequate facilities and supplies for workers to practice good hygiene
• Ensuring that good housekeeping practices are maintained in the workplace
• Making sure that contaminated surfaces and equipment are cleaned with safe cleaners or disinfectants

In 2010, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study that showed MRSA infections are declining in healthcare facilities. But outside of hospitals, community infections have increased rapidly during the past decade. Employers can help to control the spread of staph and protect their workers from serious illness by educating employees and taking appropriate precautions.

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