A clear danger to workers

Dr Michael Ryan ready to give the flu jab to all comers.
Dr Michael Ryan ready to give the flu jab to all comers. John Mccutcheon

EMPLOYERS need to bite the bullet and send sick employees home, the local Medical Association says.

Sunshine Coast group president Dr Wayne Herdy said bosses were willing to risk the spread of infection in the workplace by refusing to send home staff who were displaying flu symptoms.

It comes as new results from an Influenza Specialist Group (ISG) survey showed an alarming 90% of Australians have risked the health of colleagues by going to work sick because they don't want to let them down or miss deadlines.

Of those people, 20% said they would go into work because they didn't think flu symptoms were a serious enough reason to stay home - a mindset which is costing the economy more than $34 billion a year and potentially risking lives.

"The onus is on employers to send home employees with coughs, colds and sneezes," Dr Herdy said.

"I don't think employers are doing that nearly enough. I don't think they're seeing the bigger picture."

University of Sydney immunisation expert Professor Robert Booy said 'presenteeism' - the phenomenon where employees turned up to work when sick - was a major concern, especially for people who were at high risk.

"The influenza virus is more likely to have severe consequences for pregnant women, those aged over 65, people with underlying medical conditions and indigenous Australians," he said.

"People need to take the flu much more seriously as it is a potentially fatal disease that is estimated to cause more deaths than accidents on roads."

Dr Herdy said the infection rate in an ordinary office could be high, with close quarters making it easy for employees to pass on illness and temporarily disable an organisation.

"Despite the fact it's inconvenient, it's what they (employers) should be doing." Dr Herdy said employees were driven to go into work when sick because they either felt obligated to attend to their duties or because they could not afford to have time off.

"It's very noble, but it's not practical for themselves, their employers and employees."

ISG chairman Dr Alan Hampson said the fact so many Australians were going to work sick was even more of a reason to get vaccinated now as flu season approached.

The 2012 flu vaccination was available as of yesterday.

"People need to get vaccinated now - it could save their lives and will ensure they are protected when others bring the infection into their workplaces or social environment," he said.

When it comes to flu etiquette and hygiene, Australia isn't faring too well compared with other countries.

Coming sixth in the Global Hygiene Council's world personal hygiene rankings, Australians could be doing more to improve their hygiene and prevent the flu spreading as one third are not bothering to disinfect their hands or wash them more while sick.

The stats

  • While Australians are becoming increasingly frustrated and annoyed when people go about their day to day activities while sick, they are reluctant to practice flu etiquette themselves with 70% confessing to have participated in social activities despite having flu symptoms.
  • While more than 80% of Australians would move away from a person displaying flu symptoms and 36% feel concerned about their health when sick people go about their day to day activities, only 10% would tell a person who has flu that they should minimise contact with others.
  • Almost 20% of Australians going to work sick are doing so because they don't think flu symptoms are a serious enough reason to stay home - a mindset costing the economy more than $34million a year.
  • Australians are more likely to go to work and continue day to day activities while sick (90%) compared to our American counterparts (64%)

Source: Influenza Specialist Group

Topics:  employers flu illness work

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