Seasonal Health Risks
The primary respiratory risk that is associated with the winter season is exposure to the influenza virus. Due to the cold weather, workers typically work in close proximity to one another indoors, which increases the risk for the spread of respiratory illness. Negative outcomes that result from infections include lost work time and decreased productivity. The risk for more widespread disease increases when an infected worker with the flu coughs and/or sneezes; the virus-containing droplets can either become aerosolized or settle on objects (i.e. door knobs, keyboards, phones, tools, etc.) other workers come into contact with. Employers should be proactive in decreasing the spread of influenza in the workplace through the implementation of three strategies.
I. Flu Vaccine: encourage employees to get the influenza vaccine, which introduces remnants of the virus into the host’s body to stimulate host’s immune system to produce antibodies so that when the host is exposed to the virus, the host’s immune system already has antibodies to fight off the potential infection to stop the virus. The vaccine also promotes the concept of herd immunity; if the virus does not replicate and cause infection in the exposed worker, then that worker won’t subsequently spread it to another worker. Some industries (i.e., healthcare) are moving toward mandatory vaccinations.
II. Respiratory Hygiene Etiquette: encourage all workers to cover their mouths and noses by sneezing and coughing either into their sleeve versus in their hands or by using a tissue that’s promptly discarded in the nearest waste receptacle. Proper hand hygiene should be regularly performed via hand-washing with non-antimicrobial soap and water or by using either an alcohol-based or antiseptic hand-wash regularly throughout the workday. A dispenser of alcohol-based hand rub can be installed in the workplace and hand-washing supplies (i.e., disposable towels, soap) should be made consistently available to workers.
III. Worker Management: Persons who are coughing should be offered N-95 respirators or similar devices to contain respiratory secretions. If physical space permits, those with coughs should be encouraged to sit away from others in common areas. Employees with a fever should stay at home until they have been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication.
Please let us know if you require assistance in implementing a comprehensive using the above three strategies to maximize employee health and wellness in your workplace.