Help Protect Your Hourly Workforce from Drug-Resistant Superbugs

December 3, 2019 - minute read

If you haven’t already heard about the alarming federal health statistics regarding the drug-resistant superbugs in our midst, you’re about to. An alarming report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that hard-to-treat bacteria and fungi now affect 2.8 million Americans each year, including 35,000 fatalities.

Luckily, there are steps you can take as an employer to help prevent the development of antibiotic resistance from within your workforce. For example, are your HR policies ready to take on these hard-hitting germs? Let’s examine what’s at risk and how you can promote a health-conscious operation moving forward.

Why You Should Take Superbugs Seriously

It may seem redundant to say that antibiotic resistant bugs can affect any person, but many employers dismiss any real likelihood that an apocalyptic germ could find its way to their workforce or client worksites. In reality, these superbugs are part of a global crisis that has spread over continents—via people, food, and animals—with incredible speed. So, regardless of how contained your operation may seem, no worksite or group of employees is truly safe from contamination. 

Even though the majority of infected individuals do not require hospitalization, the risks to your business are many. Illness-related absences by your employees can trigger a number of operational challenges such as scheduling issues, increased labor costs, and slowdowns in production. In order to ensure your operation is always prepared, planning a proper defense is your best chance of remaining unharmed by the dangers of superbugs in 2020.

How Do Superbugs Spread?

One of the most-effective ways to protect your workforce is to start by identifying the ways disease can infiltrate and then spread within your workforce and facilities. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), these factors include:

  • Crowding, or frequent skin-to-skin contact. For superbugs of an airborne or viral nature, bacteria can enter the air from a person with an infection of the lungs, throat, or sinuses, and workers in the vicinity can become infected.
  • Compromised skin (i.e., cuts or abrasions).
  • Contaminated items and surfaces. Any surfaces that are touched by infected individuals can pose a risk, from kitchen or breakroom counters, machinery, and personal items like towels or PPEs (personal protection equipment).
  • Lack of cleanliness. Proximity or ingestion of water or vapors from sewage systems, plumbing lines, recreational water, animals, etc. are not only potential sources of infection, but areas where superbugs often cross-contaminate and thrive.

Identifying the ways in which superbugs can reach and inhibit your operation is a key step towards conscious prevention. Now, you’re ready for preventive safety and health initiatives like the ones below.

Tips for Preventing the Spread of Superbugs

  • Drilling down on standard health practices: don’t underestimate the power of the basics. Encouraging employees to wash their hands, decontaminating personal or shared equipment, and quarantining employees who show signs of illness can mean the difference between a single, sick employee and an incapacitated workforce that’s out for weeks. You might consider adding signage, restructuring your sick-leave policies, and training employees on how to swap shifts or reach out to their managers if a sick coworker insists on coming to work.
  • Updating and cleaning facilities: have you ever considered adding hand sanitizer stations to your worksite? How regularly do you clean the air ducts of your factory and replace the filters in your ventilating equipment? There are many easily-overlooked areas that can worsen the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If you have reason to suspect the air quality, water quality, or available sanitation for your workers is inadequate, make sure to address it as quickly as possible.
  • Vaccinating: Offering voluntary vaccines, allowing protected leave for employees to go obtain vaccines, or simply providing notice to employees when an outbreak has occurred near their geographic location(s) can be hugely helpful in fighting off infections. Try to give your employees as much notice as possible.
  • Rapid response initiatives: while many of these solutions stress the importance of prevention, being ready for actual outbreaks is just as vital. That means preparing for stalls in production, establishing clear, direct lines of communication between managers and employees, and creating unique policies for determining payroll, should the majority of your employees be unable to report for work as usual.

How EPAY Can Help

Many companies are lax in developing actionable plans for emergencies like a massive outbreak due to a tendency to believe in favorable outcomes. However, when it comes to drug-resistant bacteria and the “post-antibiotic era,” we’re already there. Having the right HR software and partner can help you navigate emergency response communication, manage employee benefits administration with ease, create effective HR policies, and reconfigure payroll to meet complex circumstances.

EPAY’s integrated HCM software allows you to post an electronic version of your employee handbook—and/or an emergency action plan document—online, where employees can access it anytime. You can make reading it part of your online onboarding process, too.

And because EPAY HCM simplifies so many time-consuming HR tasks, it frees your HR team to stay on top of long-term initiatives like emergency preparedness. If you’d like more information about sick leave compliance, check out our on-demand webinar, Navigating Paid Sick Leave Laws.

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Filed Under: Human Capital Management Workforce Management Employee Benefits Learning and Development OSHA