Snowplow Season = Snow and Flu Season

By Dr. Sarah Hubbard and Dr. Bryan Hubbard, Purdue University 

Winter is coming, and the colder weather provides a reminder that cold and flu season is here.  As you reach for your winter gear and prepare your truck for snow season, make a point to gear up with healthy practices to protect yourself and co-workers for the season.

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Traditionally, when we talked about “workplace health and safety” we reached for strong boots, reflective vests and hard hats.  Now, we have expanded our thinking and we know that there are many other important practices to support workplace health and safety, especially when it comes to colds, flu, and other contagious illnesses.

The worst of the pandemic is over, but let’s not forget the healthy habits that we learned from it.  Last year, the incidence of colds, flu and other contagious illnesses was significantly reduced due to the precautions taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19. 

While colds and flu may seem innocuous, they can pack a big punch. Colds and flu are not only unpleasant (or sometimes downright miserable) but can also cause secondary infections and complications that may be a real threat to health, especially for people who are vulnerable due to existing health issues.  If we all practice healthy habits, we can avoid spreading illness at work and bringing illness home to our friends and family. 

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Typical Flu Season Peaks between December and February (CDC, 2018 Jul 12)

You are essential:  absolutely necessary.  We always knew it, and last year it was confirmed.  As transportation workers, you are essential.  You are absolutely necessary and extremely important. Our communities rely on you and we all rely on the work that you do every day.  Consider discussing this status as essential workers with your local officials and having it recognized by local ordinance.  Hopefully it will not be relevant anytime soon, but it is good to be prepared.

Thank you for the important role you provide for your community.  Our roads are a vital link for travel and support many activities that we literally can’t live without.  Good roads ensure trucks can bring food (and toilet paper!) to our stores.  Good roads ensure farmers can bring grain to market.  Good roads ensure people can bring their family and friends to the doctor.  Good roads also ensure packages and groceries can be delivered to people’s homes, and ensure important services like garbage collection can continue uninterrupted (and many of you take care of that essential work, as well, thank you!).

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You are important.  Your family and friends rely on you, and we want everyone to go home in good shape at the end of the day.  Protecting your health helps protect the health of your family and friends. 

Your work is important. Your community needs you.  Protecting your health helps protect the health of your co-workers.  Respect yourself and show your respect for your co-workers by taking appropriate precautions this cold and flu season.  It’s important to always follow health protocols, and it is especially important during the winter season -- perhaps we should call it “snow and flu season”.

Just as we have all adopted the habit of fastening our seat belts to protect ourselves, now we can all remind each other to adopt habits to stay healthy.  We can all do our part.

What can management and crew leaders do to support health during snow and flu season? 

Make supplies available. Provide cleaning supplies where they are needed.

  • Cleaning supplies for shared spaces and equipment.  Easy access to disinfecting wipes (or disinfecting spray and paper towels) helps ensure that shared spaces such as tables in the break room and conference room, counters, and vehicles can be kept clean.  If cleaning supplies are close by and convenient, everyone can help keep things clean.  Don’t forget to clean high-touch surfaces like door knobs and shared equipment!
  • Hand cleaning supplies.  Hand sanitizing stations (with hand wipes, foam or liquid) should be placed for convenience near the entrance and in the break room to reduce the spread of germs and provide a reminder to keep hands clean.  Make sure every sink has hand soap and paper towels, since washing hands is one of the best defenses to reduce the spread of colds and flu.  Consider making hand sanitizer in the truck standard equipment to help ensure mobile access to clean hands, which is especially important when workers are in and out of public places. 

Consider worker fatigue when scheduling.

Winter storms may disrupt regular schedules and require that workers put in extra time and effort.  Carefully consider the potential impacts of overtime, extended and irregular shifts on worker fatigue.  Worker fatigue can contribute to accidents and reduced employee performance, and can also cause stress, problems with work-life balance, and increase health risks. 

  • Temporary workers.  Rather than stretching the existing staff, consider if there are other options that may be viable.  Can temporary employees be hired?  Can contracts be let for some work?  Can employees be recruited from other departments to lighten the load?  Can some work be postponed when extra hours are required to respond to winter storms?

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  • Support a positive culture.  Promote a culture that emphasizes all aspects of employee health and safety.  Health promotion activities may include workplace posters, positive feedback and the addition of health reminders as a part of regular safety talks; these kinds of activities can all contribute to a healthier workplace.  It’s valuable to remind employees that the benefits of strong health and safety practices, including healthy habits, can contribute to benefits in all aspects of employee life.  Health promotion messages may emphasize healthy habits like hand hygiene, cleaning and sanitizing procedures, vaccinations, regular check-ups, stress management, regular check-ups and preventative medicine, hydration, good diet and adequate rest and exercise.
  • Implement regular cleaning procedures.  Develop, implement and promote standard procedures for cleaning and sanitizing shared spaces, equipment and vehicles.  Workplace sanitation should include regular sanitation of shared surfaces and high touch areas (think door knobs and handrails).  Vehicle sanitation is recommended at the end (or beginning) of each shift or whenever a vehicle is shared by multiple people.  This will not only ensure a safer vehicle, but also helps reinforce the importance of healthy habits.

What can employees do to support health during snow and flu season? 

  • Focus on your health. Remember “health” is an important part of employee health and safety.  Illness can be just as debilitating as an injury, and the benefits of good health will carry over and allow you to enjoy your time off the clock, too.  Make it a personal goal to not only “go home in one piece” but aspire to go home (and come to work) in the best possible health.
  • Stop the spread of germs. Be mindful of all the opportunities you can take to reduce the spread of germs that cause contagious illness.  Do your part both at work and off-the-clock to stop the spread of germs and contagious illness.
    • Good hand hygiene.
    • Practice appropriate cleaning protocols and sanitation of shared spaces and shared equipment.
    • Stopping the spread of germs will help protect you, your friends and family, and your co-workers.
  • Healthy habits. Take good care of yourself and remember a healthy lifestyle includes healthy habits. 
    • Make sure you eat healthy food and stay hydrated.
    • Exercise regularly and get adequate sleep.
    • Schedule regular check-ups (at least once a year) with your doctor. It’s like scheduled maintenance for your truck!
  • Manage stress. Stress includes both day-to-day stressors and bigger life changes.  Even positive changes can be stressful!  There are a variety of strategies that may help manage stress.
    • Exercise, staying focused on the positive, listening to music, and even a conversation with a friend may help reduce stress.
    • Deep breathing exercises may be useful and you can find good examples online (try https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-relief-breathing-techniques). Breathing techniques have been used by special forces, surgeons and public speakers and can be used throughout the day, wherever you are. 
    • Managing stress may be “easier said than done”. When stress is more than you can manage on your own, talk with your doctor, who can provide additional resources.
  • Support a positive culture. Your attitude and actions make a big difference.  Do your part to follow habits, acknowledge the efforts of others, and hold each other accountable for actions to support a healthy workplace.  The benefits of a healthy work place protect you and your co-workers so you can be there for your family and your community. 

 

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References

CDC (Center for Disease Control). (2018, Jul 12).  The Flu Season. Retrieved December 4, 2020 from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season.htm

For more information about how local agencies responded to the Contagious Illness Outbreak, take a look at the LTAP report which can be found here:   Link to LTAP report A Guide to Street and Highway Operations during Contagious Illness Outbreaks by Sarah Hubbard and Bryan Hubbard.

"You are essential: absolutely necessary.  We always knew it, and last year it was confirmed.  As transportation workers, you are essential."