Infection control in the work place
Changing safety behaviour to prevent Covid 19

The Covid 19 curve has flattened and restrictions are easing up. Many companies now have employees returning to work after a period of working from home, and to prevent infection, new rules apply. How do you make sure leaders and employees are complying with the guidelines to combat Covid 19?

Using the MACE model, you can take a behaviour-focused approach to the task. You should always start with a clear goal. In this case, the goal is to prevent employees from getting infected or infecting others at work.

The first thing you need to do, is to define the core behaviours leaders and employees need in order to achieve that goal. Let’s focus on one thing we know to be effective – hand hygiene. The core behaviour for leaders and employees would then be to wash their hands.

Next, ask yourself the following four questions:
– Are they Motivated to wash their hands?
– Are they Able to wash their hands?
– Is it Clear exactly what they are expected to do and how to do it?
– Is it Easy for them to do it in practice?

We can assume that given the situation, most leaders and employees will be highly motivated, because they want to avoid being infected. What about ability and clarity? Washing your hands is a basic skill that you can expect everyone to be able to perform. However, we know that there are details around how you should wash your hands in order to completely remove the virus. Therefore, we should be more specific about how and when they should do it, such as using soap and warm water; washing their hands for at least 20 seconds; remembering to wash all areas (including thumbs, fingertips, in between fingers etc.); washing before coming in to the work space; washing before entering the canteen/eating area; etc.

The last component is ease. How easy or difficult is it for your employees to wash their hands in practice, in the situations where it is required of them? Let’s say that you have hand sinks in all rest rooms and next to the coffee machines. However, if many people need to use these to wash their hands around the same time, such as right before lunch, these areas will get crowded and there will be long lines. This increases the level of difficulty, and might result in decreasing motivation and some people might even drop the hand wash, increasing risk of infection. What can you do in order to make it easier for everyone to wash their hands before lunch? One example is to place hand sanitizer in strategic places in and near the canteen/eating area. Another is to reduce the crowds by grouping employees and giving them different time slots for lunch. By combining the two measures, you make it easy for leaders and employees to keep their hands clean to prevent infection.

Because we want leaders and employees to keep following the guidelines for hand hygiene, we need them to form these new behaviours into habits, which takes time. Don’t stop your efforts after an initial campaign, you will quickly see that some people forget about the new behaviours and return to old habits. Help your leaders and employees remember to wash their hands by using triggers. Triggers, in this case, could be a poster with reminders to wash hands or use hand sanitizer placed in strategic places. It could also be a humorous poster over the hand sink telling you to sing along to a few lines of a well-known song while washing your hands, in order to make sure you wash for at least 20 seconds. Placing hand sanitizer bottles in strategic places in itself, will also act as a trigger.

Last, but not least, make a plan for how you want to reinforce the behaviour. Repeat you message across available channels, and find new ways to talk about why it is so important that everyone makes an effort to wash their hands often. Let them know what you are doing to contribute, show your appreciation and acknowledge their efforts. Mobilize leaders and tell them to focus on giving positive feedback in their teams. Let teams discuss how they’re doing, if there are any obstacles, and how they can overcome them, deciding on local actions together. This way, you keep focus on the core behaviour over time, so that leaders and employees form lasting habits.