Every year, up to 7.5 million Canadians1 and 62 million Americans will get the flu and become sick. The direct cost of all workplace absenteeism is estimated at 2.4% of gross annual payroll.2 As a result, seasonal flu has a significant impact on employers and the general public. Direct medical costs, for example, are estimated in the US at $10 billion annually and more than $16 billion in lost earnings.3 Indirect costs include lost productivity, replacement workers and a reduction in customer satisfaction. Combining both direct and indirect costs significantly increases the financial impact of absenteeism on businesses globally.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the flu vaccine as the “first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses”. According to the CDC, even though the flu vaccine is readily available, 60% of the population is not protected.4 Since 83% of working adults continue to work while sick5, there is a 5%-10% decline in productivity and increase in the spread of infection.
According to health authorities, up to 80% of germs are spread by our hands and transmission can happen either through personal contact or by touching contaminated surfaces. People can spread the flu virus one day before getting sick and five to seven days after. As a result, most people pass the flu to someone else before they even know they are sick, as well as during the illness period. According to the CDC, “Most experts think the flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk”.5 The virus can enter the body through the mouth, nose or lungs. As a result, presenteeism has adverse effects beyond productivity as only 34% of males and 56% of females wash their hands on average.6
The economic cost of absenteeism and the impact of presenteeism on the workplace is the problem. The solution is to improve hand hygiene compliance through education. Additional recommendations are made to implement an
infection control in the workplace program to reduce overall costs and improve employee health.
Recommendations for Businesses
Hands play an important role in the transfer of infectious diseases in our public and private lives. The World Health Organization (WHO) advised our hands spread up to 80% of germs. Infectious disease transmission happens through personal contact or by touching contaminated surfaces
Hand hygiene compliance in the administrative workplace is typically very low compared to healthcare and food safety environments. Worldwide studies show that hands are washed with soap and water only 20% of the time. Alcohol hand sanitizers have been proven to show a “reducing influence on the number of episodes of illness”.7 Sanitizers are a proven cost efficient method as part of an infection control program.
Employee engagement can be improved through education, provisions for appropriate hand hygiene facilities and by addressing any behavioral challenges that may affect hand hygiene compliance. Employers can utilize educational tools to help minimize business disruption, protect employee health and limit negative impact on the community. Available on the CDC website, (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/business/index.htm) these toolkits include tips to encourage vaccination, prevent the spread of infection, along with hand hygiene best practice guidelines. Additionally, skin care programs that include cleansing washroom products, alcohol hand sanitizers, moisturizing creams as well as educational and audit support are recommended.
Developing a Skin Care Management System is so much more than simply putting the right products in the right places. The system only works when it has the ‘buy in’ from the whole workforce. Management and Health and Safety Officers have the responsibility to ensure all staff are sufficiently aware and trained to understand the need for a skin care program and how to apply it. Compliance is the absolute key to success.
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