Assessing workplace infectious illness management in Australian workplaces
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Objectives: Infectious illnesses create substantial cost and productivity impacts on organisations. This study explored what employers know about infection prevention strategies in the workplace, and why and how such strategies are utilised and evaluated in order to inform methods to reduce the impacts of infectious illness in workplaces. Methods: A qualitative interpretative descriptive methodology was used. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with representatives from small, medium and large public and private organisations. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. Results: Fourteen Australian organisations – six small, six medium, and two large – from nine industries participated. Eight were from the private sector. Emergent themes included: absenteeism, presenteeism, factors influencing presenteeism, perceived risk, risk reduction, perceived lack of risk, motivations, fear of infection, and lack of knowledge. Participants could describe infection transmission modes but could not quantify specific costs of infectious illness to their business. Various infection mitigation strategies were employed, but few organisations had formal infectious illness policies. Reasons for employing infection prevention strategies included legal and moral obligations and prevention of reoccurrence of serious infectious illness incidents. Participants were not aware of current evidence regarding workplace infection prevention and control, or the efficacy of their chosen strategies. Limitations included the potential for recall bias and socially desirable responding. Conclusion: Research on the uptake and evaluation of various infection prevention and control strategies in workplaces is minimal. This paper provides preliminary data to inform further investigations on improving the workplace management of infectious illnesses.
Infection, Disease & Health