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Safety Management Insights

Healthy Workforce: Preventing Illness in the Workplace This Winter

Posted by Don Brown on Jan 21, 2015 9:30:00 AM

Preventing_illness_workplace_winterThe holidays are behind us, but with another couple of months of winter ahead, we've all got to watch out for the cold, flu and other illnesses that can really put a damper on productivity. As usual, your employees will be working in close quarters and coming into contact with the same germ-ridden surfaces day after day.

In fact, there are an average of 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations related to the flu each year, resulting in an economic burden of roughly $83.3 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To keep your workers safe and healthy – and to prevent illness-related costs and lost time – follow these tips for preventing wintertime sickness in your workplace. 

Find Your Problem Areas

Every plant, warehouse and job site is different, and any given workplace will have unique problem areas where germs abound. Typically these are places where workers commonly congregate and come into contact with the same surfaces, particularly restrooms and eating areas. Shared items such as phones, computers, machinery handles and doorknobs also tend to be breeding grounds for bacteria.

To keep sickness to a minimum, identify and disinfect these areas as frequently as possible.

Prevent the Spread of Germs

Aside from sanitizing certain surfaces, you can prevent the spread of germs by encouraging workers to make a few simple changes to their daily habits. Hand washing is the best way to keep germs from gaining ground, and alcohol-based hand sanitizer is great for areas without sinks and soap. Workers who are already sick should also avoid touching their ears, eyes and noses, and everyone can help by regularly disinfecting their safety equipment and other personal items.

Clean Common Hotspots for Bacteria

In addition to finding and cleaning the particular problem areas of your workplace, you'll want to sanitize all of the most common hotspots for bacteria. Kitchens are some of the biggest problem areas. Every surface used for prepping food should be cleaned several times per day. The same goes for sinks and toilets. Make sure you have designated someone to take responsibility for these areas, and keep your cleaning supplies well-stocked at all times.

Encourage Healthy Habits

Finally, while you can't control your workers' off-the-clock habits, it can help to encourage some basic, healthy behaviors. Sleep, exercise and good nutrition can all prevent illness, even for employees who've come into contact with bacteria and viruses. These measures are particularly important in the wintertime, when the cold weather can compromise our immune systems and make us more susceptible to a variety of diseases.

If employees still get sick, allow them to take the time they need to recover– even if it means a short-term loss in productivity. It's far better to lose the labor of a few employees for a few days than to deal with an entire department of sick people. 

For more tips on creating a healthy workforce and a safety culture, check out our guide, “9 Ways to Make Your Life As Safety Manager Easier.”

9 Ways to Make Your Job as a Safety Manager Easier