On Safety

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Avoiding disease outbreaks in the Navy

February 13, 2014

Cruise ships are becoming infamous for incidents in which numerous passengers become sick. I’ve wondered: Do Navy vessels also suffer from this issue?

A recent CNN article explored this very topic. The short answer is that Navy vessels for the most part avoid contagious disease outbreaks.

What are employees of the Navy doing differently from cruise ships to ensure sickness isn’t spreading on board? Some secret military procedure? A heavy spinach diet keeping sailors healthy?

The simple reason the Navy ships avoid contagious disease outbreaks is because they work at it. Literally.

From the CNN article:

Keeping vessels extraordinarily clean is part of the daily routine for everyone onboard U.S. Navy ships.

“Every day at 0730 we basically do a cleaning station of the ship. Every department has their own space,” sailor John Canevari said, clearly showing pride in his section of the passageway.

“We live here. If we want to go out on deployment for eight or nine months, we need to make sure it's clean.

” In the kitchens, cleaning is constant to prevent foodborne illnesses.

“It's important to keep it clean because cross-contamination is a big factor for illnesses,” said Jakeila Owens, Iwo Jima culinary specialist.

Just in case crews in the galleys miss something, preventive medicine technicians like Aaron Ferguson inspect multiple times every day.

They are “making sure their hands are clean, uniforms are clean, they have hairnets on properly, making sure their lines are clean, so there is not dirt buildup or anything like that which could get people sick,” he said.
Photo: U.S. Navy

This is a great example of good housekeeping procedures. It’s well-known among occupational safety and health professionals that practicing good housekeeping can help prevent workplace illnesses and injuries.

Obviously, cruise ships strive to keep their vessels clean from stem to stern. I’ve been on a cruise before, and it was remarkable how diligent the staff was at keeping the place tidy and encouraging sanitation among their guests.

And there’s the rub – the guests. Naval vessels are filled with employees whose daily job entails keeping the ship, well, shipshape. Although cruise ships have employees tasked with ensuring a clean vessel (and, despite what media reports may lead you to believe, most cruise ships are successful in preventing disease outbreaks), not everyone on the cruise has such a task. One of the reasons people go on a cruise is to get away from work, to relax and let other people worry about such things as cleaning.

However, the prevention of injuries and illnesses is not something people should take a vacation from.

The opinions expressed in "On Safety" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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