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The Bottom Line on Workplace Illness

Julie Copeland

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Workplace illness can cost you money and downtime.How many working days were lost to sickness in the U.S. during our last flu season? 10 million? 50 million? Try 100 million!

This according to a study conducted by Walgreens, examining the effects of influenza (flu) on everyday life. The corresponding dollar amount of lost productivity is $10 billion to the bottom line – nothing to sneeze at.

We all know the signs of the flu. And we all know that it can knock us for a loop and affect those around us as we deal with the chills, fevers, aches, and insufferable symptoms that run its course and shut us down physically and mentally.

On average, 13% of the U.S. population gets the flu every year, with active flu seasons seeing closer to 20%, or more than 62 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In addition to the 100 million work days lost due to flu-related illness last season, more than one-third of those days would have been uncompensated with the costs borne by the employee, resulting in $6.8 billion in lost wages.

When it comes to sick time and employers' costs, nearly two-thirds of total missed work days would have been employer-paid, resulting in a cost of more than $10 billion to companies' bottom lines due to lost productivity. In addition to missed work days, nearly 2 million business trips were canceled last season, based on survey projections.

And, while some followed doctor's orders and stayed home from work while sick, an overwhelming majority — nearly 80% of those surveyed who got the flu last season — say they at some point still went to work. As for "worker's remorse," 60% were at least fairly concerned they would expose others to illness.

For some working parents, the 32 million school days that the report projects were missed due to flu last season also can translate to missed work days and other challenges. More than one-third of respondents with children said they need to make alternative child-care arrangements when their children are sick, while 40% would need to take time off of work to care for a sick child.

Click here for an easy to follow chart issued by the Centers for Disease control and Prevention (CDC) on How the Flu travels.  Please share the chart with your employees.

Businesses have a vested interest in minimizing the impact of the flu in the workplace. Employees who are sick should be encouraged to stay away from the office. Policies should be in place to deal with such scenario before they occur.  One sick employee could potentially spread illness throughout the entire company.  In addition to wanting to keep costs down and maintain productivity levels, employers also have a duty to their employees to provide a safe and healthy work environment.

Here’s what employers can do to maintain a healthy work environment and keep the flu from spreading illness throughout the workplace:

  • Help employees understand your company policy on sickness and the importance of staying home and not subjecting others to flu-like symptoms.

  • Workers displaying flu-like symptoms should be sent home to avoid spreading germs in the workplace.  Sick workers should stay home until at least 24 hours after their fever is gone.

  • Emphasize respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by both people who are well and those who have any symptoms of the flu. Encourage workers to wash their hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer;

  • Encourage workers to cover their coughs and sneezes:  Place posters in the worksite that encourage cough and sneeze etiquette and provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees. 

  • Clean surfaces and items that are most likely to have frequent hand contact and provide cleaning materials to employees so that they can clean their individual work spaces.

  • Offer Flu Shots: For every $1 spent by employers on vaccinations, medical costs decreased by $3.27 and absenteeism costs fell by $2.75.

  • Consider providing employees with complimentary bowls of fruit (apples, oranges, etc.) to promote a healthy food choice.

  • Prepare for increased absences and cross-train employees to cover essential functions

  • Advise workers about precautions they may need to take to protect their health and who to call if they become sick when traveling.

  • Prepare for the possibility of school dismissals or temporary child-care closures.  Strongly recommend that parents not bring their children with them to work while schools are out.

At Arbill, your employee health and safety is important to us.  Please visit Arbill.com or contact your Arbill representative to find out how we can help keep your employees safe and help you build a culture of safety within your organization. 

Stay well and have a safe day!

Topics: Arbill, respiratory protection, physical health, workplace illness, flu, flu shots

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