Workplace Health and Safety is not all about safety, it’s also about health says Gary Willcox of Monit workplace safety systems.
As a business you have a responsibility to ensure your work environment, including work practices, does not place workers at risk of infections, diseases or other health related illnesses. Poor healthy environments kill around 12.6 million people each year around the world compared to 2.4 million deaths from workplace accidents.
The reason we tend not to pay attention to an unhealthy work environment is because illnesses don’t jump out at you like an unguarded moving part. Illnesses are silent and very difficult to find the source of infection. They can also take years to surface at which point the work environment or practices have changed. Adding to the mystery is that workers move around from workplace to workplace making pinpointing the location of infection all but impossible. When medical authorities find an illness trend, the first thing they do is identify the causing environment. Three recent findings are asbestosis (asbestos), black lung disease (black coal) and now, silicosis (Silica).
These have all had national recognition and so they should, however there are plenty of other illnesses in a workplace that go under the radar because they are either deemed low risk, or the medical authorities haven’t joined the dots yet.
Low risk illnesses can still have a huge impact though. For instance, the common cold or flu is responsible for over 1 million working days lost in Australia each year. Suffice to say Winter is not good for business. Although colds and flus are not the responsibility of a business, it does make for a strong financial case to control it in your workplace.
Here are a few tips to keep workers and profits healthy over the Winter break.
Make disinfecting wipes readily available.
Keep your soap stocks high in bathrooms and toilets.
Encourage cold sufferers to cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow, or a tissue, not into the open or their hands.
Provide paper instead of shared towels for workers to dry their hands on.
Educating your workers around personal hygiene will not only support a worker’s health but will help reduce absenteeism. Here’s a few discussion points.
Wash hands. It's the single best way to avoid a cold. Once germs are on your hands, it's easy for them to get into your body when you touch your eyes or mouth.
Encourage washing hands before eating food and after bathroom use. Unfortunately, only 19% of people wash their hands after using the bathroom.
Encourage healthy food alternatives at meal breaks.
Start now and break the absenteeism cycle at your workplace.