Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Germs and the Workplace: Staying Healthy on the Job; Following "Respiratory Etiquette" Can Keep Your Employees Healthier and Your Business Running More Smoothly

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Germs and the Workplace: Staying Healthy on the Job; Following "Respiratory Etiquette" Can Keep Your Employees Healthier and Your Business Running More Smoothly

Article excerpt

Will you be one of the 10 to 20 percent of U.S. residents who come down with the flu this season? Perhaps you'll escape the flu but will suffer through one or more of the estimated 1 billion colds U.S. individuals catch every year. While these numbers may put you in good company, they are cold comfort (pun intended) while slogging through runny noses, sore throats, fever and other symptoms of the cold and flu.

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And it's not just the person who catches a cold or the flu who suffers. It's also American businesses, which bear the brunt of worker absenteeism and productivity declines associated with sick employees who show up to work when they should probably be at home getting well.

Unfortunately, people will come to work when they're sick--afraid they'll fall too far behind if they miss a day or two of work, or feeling guilty for staying home. However, there are things that both employers and employees can do to prevent cold and flu germs (and other illnesses) from running rampant throughout the workplace.

RESPIRATORY ETIQUETTE

Most cold and flu germs are trans-ferred in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes--either through the air or through touch of an infected object. To help avoid such transfer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages people to follow rules of "respiratory etiquette." Quite simply, that means employees covering their mouth and/or nose with a disposable tissue when coughing or sneezing (and then throwing that tissue away!) and frequent handwashing (or hand degerming with a waterless hand sanitizer) to break the chain of infection that can occur via touch.

Employers who want to heed the CDC's recommendations should consider supplying their employees with extra boxes of facial tissue or installing wall-mounted dispensers for waterless hand sanitizers throughout their workplaces. Others may want to step up efforts to clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces throughout the workplace, such as desks, stair railings and doorknobs. Because cold and flu germs can live on inanimate objects for a period of time, it's important to remember that every surface you touch has been touched by at least one other person. With this in mind, employers should encourage workers to keep their fingers away from their noses and eyes and to wash their hands after touching a surface that has been touched by someone with a cold or the flu. …

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