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Infection Prevention and Control

Preventing and controlling infections (including communicable diseases) in the workplace is important for protecting staff and clients. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the significant impact that outbreaks of infections can have on the health of employees and the ability for organisations to function.

Some infections (respiratory and gastrointestinal) can quickly spread through the workforce, e.g. flu, COVID-19 or norovirus. For some people they can cause serious illness, e.g. among vulnerable individuals such as those with underlying health conditions.

Other types of infections may have more limited spread but potentially serious implications for a business and its clients, e.g. campylobacter or salmonella among food handlers.

Even an infection with short-term symptoms causing minor illness, such as the more common winter viruses, can have an ongoing impact on business productivity and continuity and represent the biggest cause of short-term sickness absence. Therefore, developing and implementing good practice in relation to infection prevention and control across the work environment and among the workforce is important and makes good business sense.

Percentage of occurrences of sickness absence, by top five reasons in 2022, UK, 2019 to 2022

In the UK in 2022 minor illnesses accounted for:

Minor illnesses have increased sharply in 2022 to nearly the same proportion of occurrences of sickness absence as pre- COVID-19 pandemic in 2019.

It is important for employers to understand and comply with their health and safety duties to prevent and control the spread of infections to protect the health of their workforce, clients and the public.

Discover more information on health and safety duties here.

By implementing effective prevention and control measures in the workplace, businesses and employers will:

  • Help to prevent, control and minimise the spread of infections
  • Protect employees’ health and wellbeing
  • Reduce the potential of disruption to the workforce from sickness absence
  • Reduce the related impact on productivity, targets and deadlines
  • Protect others such as clients, visitors and contractors
  • Reduce reputational risk

Notifiable Diseases

Under the Public Health Act (2010), there are a number of infectious diseases that are notifiable by law.  If a notifiable infection is suspected or confirmed, the GP or other health professional must notify the relevant public health authority. In Wales this is Public Health Wales (PHW) and/or the local authority environmental health team. They will investigate to identify individuals who may have been exposed or infected and provide advice on reducing the risk of onward transmission.

This investigation may include gathering information on contacts (i.e. contact tracing). As an employer, you may be asked and are required to provide relevant information to help with contact tracing if an employee or close contact of an employee, contractor or visitor to your work sites becomes infected or has been exposed to a notifiable disease.

How Can Employers Take Action?