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Partnering to Maintain a Healthy Workforce (Even During a Pandemic)
by Cheryl Culberson, FNP-BC

During the past year Wisconsin employers have gone to great lengths to keep their employees safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. They understand that the health of their employees directly affects the health of their business.
Healthy Workers Lead to Healthy Businesses
As the pandemic unfolded, Advocate Aurora Health developed new, safer ways to provide occupational health services, keeping our own workforce and the people we serve safe and healthy. Some of our clients employ “essential” workers who require specific occupational health services, even during a pandemic. COVID-19 has altered the way we provide certain services, including:

• mandatory COVID-19 screenings and testing
• increased use of PPE and masking
• other mitigation efforts to avoid catching or spreading the virus
Despite challenges of the pandemic, Advocate Aurora has continued to provide vital occupational health services such as:

• annual physicals and health screenings
• pre-placement physical examinations
• Department of Transportation (DOT) physicals
• drug screenings and saliva testing        
• initial and follow-up work injury treatment
• return-to-work physicals
• travel and immunization care

Many Wisconsin employers partner with Advocate Aurora Occupational Health Services to help them hire the right people, comply with regulations and promote the health of their employees – and their business. Employers often require pre-placement and periodic physical examinations to assess the physical capabilities of both current employees and job applicants to perform essential functions of the job safely.

Our occupational health experts continue to treat work-related illnesses or injuries — partnering with employers to get sick or injured employees back to work as quickly as possible. Occupational health services are tailored to each employer’s specific needs. This flexibility is especially helpful during these challenging times.

Reminder to employers:

Please give employees a break, but…
At workplaces across the country, break rooms have been linked to the spread of COVID-19. These are often small, indoor spaces where employees let their guard down to eat and socialize. Even those employees who are careful about masking while working must remove them to eat or drink. Since break rooms or cafeteria space may be limited, it can be difficult for employees to maintain appropriate social distancing.

Since the pandemic saga continues, here are some suggestions on how to encourage employees to take a break safely:

• stagger scheduled breaks among employees to avoid overcrowding the break room
• rearrange seating to maintain physical distancing
• place signage on tables and rooms indicating how many can safely use the space at one time
• regularly disinfect all high-touch surfaces
• avoid sharing any food or utensils
• offer easy access to soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer

Employees should take personal responsibility for maintaining this shared space. This includes wiping down surfaces with disinfectant before and after each use. Employers should offer guidance on how staff can safely enjoy department-based celebrations while minimizing infection risk (examples: avoiding communal food; serving only individually wrapped items that employees can take back to their area for a “virtual” celebration). Implementing these simple steps in the employee break room and beyond can help prevent exposure, infection and spreading of the virus.

Cheryl Culberson, FNP-BC, serves as a family nurse practitioner at the Advocate Aurora Lake Zurich Occupational Health and Travel Medicine Clinic in Illinois.
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