Just like nobody enjoys being sick, no employer likes when their workplace is understaffed and less productive due to illness. That means that as flu season approaches, coupled with the ongoing threat of COVID-19, protecting your employees from respiratory illnesses becomes an important part of workplace safety.
Protecting workers from respiratory illnesses not only keeps your team happy and healthy, but is important for overall workplace productivity, too. Respiratory illnesses can have a profound impact on individuals and the broader workforce.
By implementing thorough preventive measures and promoting a culture of respiratory health, you can create an environment that prioritizes the well-being of your employees. This not only fosters a sense of care, but also reduces absenteeism and ensures uninterrupted workflow.
Here, we’ll explore proactive measures and industry-specific strategies to protect your employees from the flu, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), and COVID-19, ensuring a healthier and more productive work environment.
Related Article: 10 Flu Season Tips to Keep Your Workplace Healthy
Related Article: RSV: The Common Virus Affecting Children
Understanding the Common Respiratory Illnesses: Flu, Covid19, & RSV
- The Influenza Challenge
Influenza, or flu, is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. While some view the flu as nothing more than a bad cold, that’s not really the case.
According to data collected by the CDC from 2010–2020, the flu has caused approx. 12,000–52,000 deaths annually, depending on which strain was most active during a given year.
It can lead to severe complications requiring hospitalization and, in some cases, even prove fatal. Protecting workers from the flu is crucial for maintaining a safe workplace.
- Unpacking RSV
Although Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) primarily affects young children and older adults, it can also impact healthy individuals. While typically manifesting as mild cold symptoms, RSV can lead to more severe respiratory issues, making it a concern for workplaces with diverse age groups.
Or, if an employee cares for elderly parents or have children, absenteeism can occur if they need to stay home to take care of sick family members.
- The Ongoing Battle with COVID-19
COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus, has reshaped the landscape of occupational health. And by now, you’re certainly aware of the risks and dangers it can pose. Its high transmission rate and potential for severe outcomes necessitate stringent measures to mitigate its spread within workplaces.
Proactive Measures Against Respiratory Illnesses
- Comprehensive Vaccination Programs
Encouraging and facilitating vaccinations against the flu, RSV, and COVID-19 is a cornerstone of preventive care. Consider offering on-site vaccination clinics, provide information on where to get vaccinated, or even offer incentives to motivate participation.
On-site vaccination clinics are especially effective, because it reduces the “inconvenience factor” for employees who would otherwise need to take time from their schedule to set up an appointment elsewhere.
- See OSHA’s position on mandatory flu shots for employees
- See OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing ETS
- See CDC’s Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control
- Strengthening Hygiene Practices
Promoting regular hand-washing, sanitizing high-touch surfaces and providing hand sanitizers throughout the workplace are crucial steps.
Additionally, educating employees on proper respiratory hygiene, including coughing and sneezing etiquette, helps minimize the spread of respiratory viruses.
- Adequate Ventilation and Air Filtration
Ensuring proper ventilation and investing in high-quality air filtration systems are essential. Well-ventilated spaces with efficient filtration reduce the concentration of airborne pathogens, lowering the risk of transmission.
- Remote Work and Flexible Scheduling
Where feasible, employers should continue to support remote work arrangements. This helps minimize close contact in the workplace, reducing the likelihood of viral spread. Flexible scheduling can further stagger shifts to limit overcrowding.
- See CDC’s Nonpharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) [for Workplace Administrators]
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
In some situations, such as when workers are in close proximity to one another for the majority of their shifts, supplying appropriate PPE for respiratory protection, such as masks, face shields, and gloves, is one of the best things you can do to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses.
Train employees on the correct usage and disposal of PPE to ensure maximum effectiveness.
- Communication and Education
Transparent and consistent communication is key. Regular updates on preventive measures, vaccination opportunities, and any changes in workplace policies related to COVID-19, flu, or RSV help keep employees informed and engaged in their own health and safety.
- See CDC’s Article on The Effectiveness of Workplace Training
- Ongoing Monitoring and Screening
Implementing regular health screenings, temperature checks, and symptom assessments is crucial, especially if an outbreak of respiratory illnesses starts spreading through your workplace.
Encourage employees to self-monitor for any signs of illness and promptly report any potential exposures or symptoms.
Tailoring Strategies to Industry-Specific Needs
Of course, different industries have different operational challenges. For some businesses, a number of the above strategies may present good options, while others may need to implement only a few.
Tailoring the above strategies to suit your specific workplace environment, such as healthcare, manufacturing, retail, or office settings, ensures a targeted and effective approach to occupational health.
Bringing It Together
Protecting workers from respiratory illnesses like the flu, RSV, and COVID-19 requires a multi-faceted approach. By implementing these proactive measures, you not only prioritize the health and safety of your workforce, but also contribute to a resilient and productive workplace.
Furthermore, protecting against respiratory illnesses demonstrates a commitment to corporate social responsibility, showing that your company values the health and safety of your most valuable asset – your workforce.
Overall, a proactive approach to respiratory health not only preserves individual well-being but also contributes to a thriving, resilient, and sustainable workplace.
About Worksite Medical
In most cases, OSHA requires medical surveillance testing, and at no cost to employees.
Worksite Medical makes that program easier with mobile medical testing.
We conduct on-site respirator fit tests, as well as audiometric exams, pulmonary function tests and heavy metal lab work, right on your job site. We also keep accurate, easy-to-access medical records for your convenience. You’ll keep your employees at work, and stay ahead of OSHA inspections.