Flu season in North Carolina and throughout the country is in full swing, with the state Department of Health reporting an earlier-than-usual start.
Our North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers know that while the illness itself may not necessarily be considered solely a job-related concern, workers may encounter strained conditions and lapses in oversight when others are forced to stay home due to their own illness or that of a child.
Smart business owners hoping to curb productivity loss and ensure safety guidelines are maintained amid widespread absenteeism need to have an established contingency plan. It also doesn’t hurt to take the time to implement procedures that could limit the spread of infection. These efforts are especially important in health care settings, where germs and viruses are already plentiful, though such action is applicable just about everywhere during flu season.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, roughly 111 million workdays are lost every single year during flu season. It’s estimated that accounts for $7 billion in both lost productivity and sick days.
Workplaces generally have variant levels of risk, with healthcare employees and lab personnel being the most at risk, followed by health care transport workers and then by those who work in frequent contact with the general public, such as teachers or retail professionals. Those at lowest risk would be workplaces where general public contact is limited. Yet even in this low-risk settings, the flu can spread rapidly, as it only takes one sick person.
Officials with the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration recommend businesses follow a checklist to help them prepare and limit the spread:
- Prepare a plan for potentially reduced workforces, one that will ensure safety guidelines will continue to be followed for those workers who remain; cross-training is one example;
- Hammer out a sick leave policy that won’t penalize sick workers for staying home. If possible, this may include expanding your firm’s work-from-home options or shift-staggering;
- Stock up on things like soap, hand sanitizers, tissues, cleaning supplies and any other recommended protective gear, and encourage employees to frequently wash their hands after using the restroom or following any physical contact with others;
- Whenever possible and particularly in the midst of flu season, try to promote practices that will keep employees at a distance from one another and the public, such as e-mail threads or teleconferences in place of traditional in-person meetings.
Company administrators may also want to strongly consider promoting flu vaccination for workers and their families.
Employees should be mindful of all this as well, and strive to keep work surfaces and equipment clean and disinfected. Discourage others from using equipment that frequently comes in contact with your face or hands, such as your computer or phone.
Lastly, workers can minimize the impact that an illness such as the flu might have on them – and reduce their amount of leave time – by keeping themselves healthy. This includes quitting smoking, eating right, drinking enough fluids and making time for regular exercise. Employers should, whenever possible, promote these habits as well.
If you have been injured at work in North Carolina, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Workplace Safety and the Flu, January 2013, News Release, U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Adminis tion
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