Workplace Safety During Cold, Flu, and COVID Season
Mary Mallon worked as a cook throughout her sixty-nine years of life. In that time, it was believed that she infected up to one-hundred twenty people with a deadly disease of which five died. However, others infected by her also spread the disease and more deaths resulted, some were also asymptomatic like Mary. Known as Typhoid Mary, she was isolated for the last thirty years of her life as there was no cure for Typhoid at the time.
Nowadays there are treatments for Typhoid and yet Typhoid fever infects an estimated 11-20 million people each year, resulting in 120,000-180,000 deaths.
The need for an enhanced discussion aimed at improving the status of disease carriers and their impact on society resulted from Mary’s case. Examining this bit of history underscores the need for a discussion on how to deal with Covid-19 in the workplace as this virus is more contagious and deadly than Typhoid. Not to mention how flu and colds can impact employees and your business.
How do I keep my employees safe in my small business?
Having wellness protocols established for your business is vital as the covid-19 pandemic continues as well as important for dealing with the cold and flu season. These procedures should be communicated to the employees yearly. The best advice for keeping employees safe is for them to stay home when they are not feeling well. Should they get ill while at work, they should be separated and sent home.
- From the CDC website: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that employees should stay home if they are sick until at least 24 hours after their fever* (temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.8 degrees Celsius or higher) is gone. Temperature should be measured without the use of fever-reducing medicines (medicines that contain ibuprofen or acetaminophen).
- Further, they note: Not everyone with flu will have a fever. Individuals with suspected or confirmed flu, who do not have a fever, should stay home from work at least 4-5 days after the onset of symptoms. Persons with the flu are most contagious during the first 3 days of their illness.
How do I plan for cold/flu/COVID and sick employees?
Currently, one in five-hundred people in the U.S. have died of Covid-19. In a small business of 5 or less employees each staff member is a necessary part of the daily operations. Losing a worker to illness, least of all the principal of the business, could do long term damage if not permanently shut it down. As the character Violet in the movie Nine to Five put it; “I’m no fool, I’ve killed the boss, you think they’re not going to fire me for a thing like that?”
There are several ways to plan for a sick employee:
- Cross train staff to cover for missing workers.
- When possible, have the ill staff member work from home if they are not too sick.
- Develop alternative work schedules to prevent exposure.
- Develop and keep a cleaning schedule: Using soap or detergent reduces germs on surfaces by removing contaminants.
- Improve ventilation: Increase outdoor airflow. Use fans to increase the effectiveness of open windows. Change air filters and increase them where possible.
- Have workplace policy for vaccines. Offer incentives through insurance for yearly flu shots.
- Identify a qualified workplace coordinator to deal with COVID and flu issues.
- Make a policy for masks or other preventive measures necessary to reduce exposure.
What if an employee is diagnosed with COVID, what do I do?
Mary just spent the weekend dancing up a storm at the Covid-19 Corral. She’s at work wheezing like a leaky windbag and informs you that her Covid-19 test just came back positive.
According to the OSA act, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
If you’ve previously identified a qualified workplace coordinator, they should take the following steps.
- Instruct any workers who are infected, unvaccinated workers who have had close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19, and all workers with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home from work.
- Implement physical distancing in all communal work areas for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers.
- Provide workers with face coverings or surgical masks, as appropriate, unless their work task requires a respirator or other PPE.
- Perform routine cleaning and disinfecting procedures.
- Implement protections from retaliation and set up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards
- You should note (obtained from the OSHA website): OSHA provides the following: Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths: Under mandatory OSHA rules in 29 CFR part 1904, employers are required to record work-related cases of COVID-19 illness on OSHA’s Form 300 logs if the following requirements are met: (1) the case is a confirmed case of COVID-19; (2) the case is work-related (as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5); and (3) the case involves one or more relevant recording criteria (set forth in 29 CFR 1904.7) (e.g., medical treatment, days away from work). Employers must follow the requirements in 29 CFR part 1904 when reporting COVID-19 fatalities and hospitalizations to OSHA. More information is available on OSHA’s website. Employers should also report outbreaks to local health departments as required and support their contact tracing efforts.
- In addition, employers should be aware that Section 11(c) of the Act prohibits reprisal or discrimination against an employee for speaking out about unsafe working conditions or reporting an infection or exposure to COVID-19 to an employer. In addition, mandatory OSHA standard 29 CFR 1904.35(b) also prohibits discrimination against an employee for reporting a work-related illness.
How do I help my employees feel comfortable at work who are nervous about COVID?
Knowledge is key when it comes to reducing fears surrounding COVID.
- Communicate frequently with updates from the CDC.
- Provide information on what Covid-19 is and how it is contracted.
- Empathize and listen.
- Encourage vaccination.
- Point out available employee benefits such as counseling and assistance.
- Support those at the workplace.
- Be generous, when possible, with work at home options, relocation or redesigning the workplace to help reduce stress.
Need more information? Paris SBDC can give you ideas and expert advice on managing employees during cold/flu and COVID season. Let us help you understand your obligations as an employer and how to keep employees safe. Contact Paris SBDC today!
For additional on keeping employees healthy and on how to manage sickness during cold-flu-COVID season, please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area: Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River, Texas counties.