Flu season this year has hit Georgia hard, though the Centers for Disease Control has reported the rate of infection was recently downgraded from widespread to regional.
Still, the season started earlier this year, meaning the overall continued impact is expected to be severe. The effects will be more pronounced for those in the health care professions.
Our Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys know that while workers almost assuredly won’t be covered for a claim on contracting the virus itself, the sheer number of simultaneously affected workers can leave many firms understaffed – and many employees at higher risk for on-the-job accidents and injuries.
Every year, we can expect anywhere between 5 and 20 percent of Americans to come down with the flu. Some 200,000 people are hospitalized annually for complications related to the flu, and there are always a number of deaths, particularly in children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.
While employers may be powerless to completely eliminate the spread, they can do a lot to minimize it. It’s worth noting that in 2009, when the flu outbreak was considered mild, it still presented numerous challenges to employers who weren’t prepared.
It’s not just workers staying home after personally contracting the virus. It’s also workers who need to stay home to care for an ill child or other loved one. Employers need to have a strategy in place for how to cope with the potential closure of schools and daycare facilities stemming from an outbreak.
First and foremost, companies should encourage workers who aren’t feeling well to stay home. Even if this causes productivity to take a hit in the short-term, employers will be in a lot worse shape if even more people get sick. Workers need to know that showing up to work when they are sick is not a sign of courage – it’s selfish. Not only will your performance likely be less than stellar, you risk infecting everyone else. A good measure of if you are too ill to work is if you have a fever higher than 100 degrees (without medication) and/or if you have a combination of body aches, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, runny nose or fatigue.
Secondly, workers should be encouraged to get vaccinated. This is especially important for those who work in the health care field. The effectiveness of the vaccine varies from year-to-year, but there is no doubt it can significantly reduce the risk.
Workers need to be encouraged to wash their hands frequently, especially after sneezing, coughing or blowing their noses. They should further be encouraged to avoid frequent touching of their eyes, mouth and nose. Sometimes people don’t even realize when they are doing this, and simply offering a reminder will keep them more aware.
Employees shouldn’t be sharing each others’ computer, desk, phone or other work tools, if at all possible. If it is necessary, the surfaces should be thoroughly disinfected beforehand.
Those who are employed in the health care fields should follow the same advice, but need to be even more rigorous in their frequent washing, as well as making sure to always use the proper protective masks, gowns, gloves and other equipment.
Health care facilities can also help to cut down on the spread by limiting patient transport and strictly limiting visitation for patients who are in isolation.
Nurses, aides and doctors should also be encouraging patients and visitors to frequently wash their hands.
If you have been injured on the job in Atlanta, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.
Workplace Safety and the Flu, Jan. 2013, U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration
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Georgia Workers at Risk When Fall-Protection Measures Lacking, Jan. 31, 2013, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Attorneys