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How to Be Sick at Work

September 5, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

That title may look like a misprint, but the fact is, presenteeism is actually a major problem in many workplaces.

“Presenteeism” is when sick employees come to work anyway and often infect their co-workers as well. So, it’s a good idea to train your employees on how to be sick so they can get well and get back to normal more quickly.

First, help employees tell the difference between a cold and the flu. The common cold is a virus that typically infects the nose and throat. Bacteria do not cause colds, though bacterial infections, such as sinusitis or ear infections, can result from complications of a cold. Colds can occur any time during the year. Symptoms usually appear gradually, a couple of days after the initial infection.

Influenza, or “the flu,” is an infection of the respiratory system caused by an influenza virus. The most severe flus are caused by the type A and B influenza viruses. Swine flu (H1N1) and avian flu (H5N1) are both type A. Type C viruses cause mild illness or almost no symptoms.

The flu is most common during the winter into spring. Symptoms begin abruptly (often with a fever), are usually more severe than cold symptoms, and typically last a week or more. Complications from the flu can lead to pneumonia.

Next, ensure employees know how the cold and the flu spread. Colds are spread more readily when people are indoors, where the chances increase for contact with contaminated surfaces and inhalation of airborne viral particles. The flu is most commonly spread when viral particles are emitted into the air by coughing and sneezing. or when a contaminated surface is touched.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people are most contagious:

  • For colds, the first 2 to 3 days after infection, and usually not contagious by day 10
  • For flu, almost immediately after infection (a day before symptoms develop) and for 5 days after symptoms appear

The primary pathways to infection are:

  • The eyes and nose. Cold viruses are very hardy; they can survive up to 3 hours on surfaces. When people touch an infected surface with their hands, then touch their nose or rub their eyes, the virus can enter the tear ducts or sinuses and infect the nasal passage. Flu viruses can also spread via this pathway.
  • Inhalation. Breathing in viral particles is the most common pathway for flu infection. It is also a pathway for cold viruses when infected airborne mucus droplets are inhaled into the nose or throat.

Ideal conditions for the spread of infections are:

  • When people congregate indoors,
  • When humidity of indoor air is low, especially during cold weather, and
  • When the dry air makes the lining of the nose drier and probably more vulnerable to viral infection.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, employers collectively lose about 15 million workdays each year to colds, rivaling the 17.6 million lost workdays for serious injuries and illnesses reported to OSHA in a recent year.

The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reports that employees who work with a cold lose about 6 hours of productivity for the duration of the cold. If each worker has four colds per year, that comes to 24 hours, or 3 days, of lost productivity per worker annually.

Finally, let your employees know that psychological stress and allergic diseases affecting the nose or throat may increase the chances of being infected by a cold virus. However, there is no scientific evidence that exercise or diet can decrease the chances of getting a cold.

Training your employees to stay at home when they’re not feeling well and during the infectious stages of illnesses will help you minimize decreased productivity by ensuring that when employees are on the job, they’re working at full capacity. It also ensures that sick employees won’t infect co-workers, leading to more sick days from more workers.

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Categories: Safety
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