COVID-19 Exposure and Occupational Health Surveillance: Soup to Nuts

ROBERTA SMITH, MSPH, RN, CIC, CIH, COHN-S

Renowned occupational health leader and Director of Worker Health at Cority Axion Health, Roberta Smith, MSPH, RN, CIC, COHN-S, CIH, shares best practices for protecting your most valuable asset in combating the COVID-19 pandemic - the healthcare worker.

Watch the webinar to learn about the various situations you'll face during this pandemic and the tools and programs you'll need in place to prepare for and react to exposures in your workplace.

Themes explored in this webinar

The coronavirus known as COVID-19 has quickly swept across the world, and we are now experiencing a global pandemic. The ramifications of this virus, and the need to shut international borders, ground airplanes, and pause global economies is being felt in every corner of the world. However, there will hopefully be a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 in the coming months, which means that health and medical surveillance are now more important than ever.

When it comes to the workplace, it is extremely important that employees are monitored for symptoms, that employers watch out for potential “hot zones”, and that if there is an outbreak, contact tracing can quickly be logged. But how can all of this health surveillance be performed in a cost-effective, yet efficient manner? The answer is simple. Moving away from paper-based systems, and employing technology that allows for the input of surveillance plans, and employee profiles will ensure that employees, and their families are put at the least amount of risk.

Planning for a Pandemic

For those that work in the healthcare sector, emergency preparedness plans for a variety of scenarios have always been in place. Now that those plans have to be used, and with specific caveats due to the particularly virulent coronavirus strain COVID-19, going digital is more important than ever. With the proper technology, businesses can create employee profiles which detail the shifts they have worked, the buildings or wards they were in, and any potential exposures they may have come into contact with. This type of occupational health surveillance is necessary should an employee become ill. The exposure itself may not have come from the workplace, but through community contact. Only active health surveillance with HSE (health, safety, and environment) components will recognize this. Then, contact tracing can resume and those who have come into contact with the employee showing symptoms can go into self-isolation.

Employee Health Surveillance

Contact tracing is not the only important aspect that must be considered when it comes to health surveillance. Every day, employees must quickly answer exposure surveys, and a symptom check to see if they are becoming ill. Handing out paper-based questionnaires, and filing them for hundreds of employees is simply not efficient. There are technologies which allow employees to quickly fill out surveys regarding their health via an app, which can immediately synthesize big data to provide potential outbreak sites, or employees who should be sent into self-isolation if they have come into contact with an employee experiencing systems. Continued medical surveillance will assist with this process, and keep track of employees who test positive.

Returning to Work

After an employee has tested positive for COVID-19, there will be specific protocols in regards to their return to work. These can be managed via relevant occupational health surveillance tools incorporated into technology. Follow-up with furloughed employees needs to be systematic. This goes for employees who need to be fitted for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as respirators. There is new information coming in on a daily basis, which means surveillance and management plans cannot be static. Plans must be dynamic, and able to adapt to new data, the possible advent of an immunization for COVID-19, and a workplace in which employees must have the proper PPE and know how to use it.

Going Forward

Health surveillance with HSE components will continue as it has always done, but now it is imperative that every employee is tracked, and their health constantly assessed for COVID-19 symptoms. This is an almost impossible task if it is done via a paper-based system. Digital technologies must be used to mitigate risk, and keep employees healthy in the workplace.

About the Author

Roberta Smith, MSPH, RN, CIC, CIH, COHN-S

Roberta Smith MSPH, RN, CIH, COHN-S, CIC has spent her career exploring the many facets of public health. She has over 20 years of experience in the fields of public health, occupational health, industrial hygiene, safety, and infection control. She holds Bachelor of Science degrees in Environmental Health and Nursing. She holds a Master of Science degree in Public Health and certifications in infection control, occupational health nursing, and industrial hygiene. She currently is the Director of Worker Health for Cority Axion Health. In this role, she leads the review of the clinical content and protocols offered to occupational health clients to ensure compliance with applicable laws and best practices. She is active in both the national and local chapters of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) in the Healthcare, Leading Health Metrics, and Teen Workplace Safety subcommittees. She received the AIHA Outstanding Project Team Award in 2018 and 2019 for her leadership of the AIHA Healthcare Working Group Infection Control Subcommittee.

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