There’s no better time to pay attention to workplace infection prevention than today.
COVID-19—what was once a novel coronavirus disease no longer needs an introduction. It’s everywhere, affecting everything that moves, breathes, and works. That’s not all. The world encounters hundreds of other bacterial, fungal, and viral infections that can hamper businesses in many ways.
Workplace Infection Prevention: Why it matters
Of the many policies an office needs to make, one of the essential ones is workplace infection intervention. To understand the reason, let’s discuss the following points.
How fast do infections spread in the workplace?
The answers can vary, but they mean one thing: it spreads REALLY fast.
In one simulated study, about half of the surfaces and hands of workers already contained the germs within four hours. The supposed disease carrier was all over the place even when people had minimal social interactions.
Scientists also measure the acceleration of transmission through R-naught (R0), or its reproduction number. Influenza has an R-naught of 1.3, which means one infected person can pass on the disease to a single individual.
Novel ones, such as COVID-19, could have a higher number, which is between 2 and 2.5.
Note, though, that one of the reasons why influenza has a much lower number is because vaccines are already available for it. It promotes herd immunity, where there are enough vaccinated people in the community to protect high-risk groups from the same disease.
Specific conditions may also hasten the rate of infections, and one of these is the season. While flu happens all year round, it spikes during the colder months.
Offices can be less humid, allowing pathogens to thrive. Colder temperatures can also force people to spend more time indoors and closer together.
How do outbreaks affect a business?
We can never overemphasize the importance of workplace infection intervention. It can affect the business in the following ways:
1. Productivity Loss
The Philippines doesn’t have sufficient data about the economic burden of diseases in the workplace, but international studies may help shed some light.
One of these is an article by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA).
According to it, the flu season could mean a productivity loss of $17 billion. About 20 million workers could take four work days off to deal with the disease.
If there’s no workplace infection intervention in place, that could create a big dent on efficiency and income.
2. Employee Engagement
Employee engagement refers to the level of relationship between the workers and the company, anchored in trust, commitment, and passion.
Highly engaged employees contribute to the organization. They enjoy their work since they have higher levels of morale and satisfaction.
It also benefits the business. According to a Gallup survey, highly engaged offices could lower their absenteeism by 41%.
A workplace infection intervention can be key to boosting employee engagement since it means that your business cares for their welfare.
3. Economic Burden
In the Philippines, there’s a saying that goes “Bawal magkasakit.”
In other words, you cannot afford to get sick because it is expensive. A doctor’s visit alone can already cost Php500, which is almost equivalent to the daily wage of many workers in urban cities.
Paying for these high costs can result in higher levels of physical and mental distress. It may make them less engaged or productive or result in absenteeism. They may also continuously report to work even when they’re sick to still earn income.
How to execute workplace infection prevention
There’s no question that workplace infection intervention is essential, but how can both employees and companies implement it? Here are some tips:
Tips for employers:
Tip 1: Draft a Plan
A workplace must have a crisis plan in place, which it activates during health emergencies. This policy will determine the steps that the company and the employees will make to mitigate the risks or a rate of infection in the workplace. These may include:
- practicing social distancing,
- encouraging sick employees to work from home,
- and assuring the workers that they won’t lose their jobs if they file for a leave.
Tip 2: Choose the Ideal Office Location
A good workplace should be close to basic services, such as healthcare. In Davao, for example, Skynora is close to Southern Philippines Medical Center and Tebow CURE Hospital. The coworking space is also accessible to both public and private transportation. These are essential in times of emergencies.
Tip 3: Invest in an HMO
Although a health maintenance organization (HMO) coverage is not mandatory, it may be ideal for companies with a growing number of employees. It can reduce the out-of-pocket costs of workers and may even help increase their employee engagement.
Many HMOs now offer packages for small-scale businesses and even freelancers, such as All Care. Comparison sites can help pick the best for the team.
Tip 4: Think Hygiene
One of the essential steps in workplace infection intervention is maintaining proper hygiene. Encourage employees to:
- Wash their hands often,
- Place sanitizers and alcohols all over the office
- Cover their mouths with their elbows or tissues when sneezing or coughing.
- Rest if they have symptoms of flu or any illness.
For those considering renting a coworking space, they need to look for an office that maintains proper cleanliness at all times.
Tip 5: Help Them Lower Their Stress
Many studies already show that stress is a significant risk factor or even a cause of diseases. For one, it lowers the immune system. Therefore, stress management should be one of the possible workplace infection intervention options.
They may also avoid overburdening the employee with too much work or strive to limit the working hours to 8 hours a day.
Tips for employees:
Tip 1: Don’t Report to Work When Sick
Employees should seriously consider skipping work when they’re feeling sick. The more rest they can get, the faster they can heal. Also, there’s no point in exposing other workers to an infection. Some of them may be vulnerable, which means the symptoms may be more severe to them.
Tip 2: Know the Infection Control Guidelines of the Company
The rules in reporting an absence or even filing for sick leave can vary among businesses. Some of these may require their workers to call within 24 hours or a specific period if they’re going to be absent. Others may need a fit-to-work certificate after a few days of absence.
The policy may also include the steps both the employees and the companies should take during public health emergencies. For example, who should work from home or report to work? How often should they go to the office?
Tip 3: Practice Proper Hygiene
Remember what moms used to say? “Wash your hands before you eat, and don’t forget to brush your teeth.” Maintaining proper hygiene can be one of the best, cheapest, and most effective defenses against the risk of getting sick.
Tip 4: Encourage Sick Friends to File for Leaves
Many sick employees continue reporting to work for a variety of reasons. These may include the fear of losing their jobs or the increasing workload. Colleagues may consider helping them and their workplace by volunteering to take some of the work.
Tip 5: Maintain a Clean Workspace
Millions of germs can linger on surfaces even for days. Some of them may be harmless to people with strong immunity but dangerous for high-risk groups. Therefore, employees should make it a habit to disinfect these surfaces as often as possible. They must throw their trash in the proper bins.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a somber reminder of how important workplace infection intervention is. This guideline doesn’t only save businesses. It may also protect lives, even far beyond those who work in the office.