Colds in the workplace

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Nearly every second working person is also working with a flu infection. But especially at work it is difficult to avoid contact with colds. Dr. med. Mathias Dietrich, a specialist in occupational medicine and a member of the presidium of the Association of German Work and Factory Physicians e.V. (VDBW), gives tips on how to reduce the risk of infection in the job and how a cold person should behave.

What is the risk of infection in the workplace during a cold spell?

The risk is very high. The common cold viruses spread mainly by droplet infection, so when sneezing and coughing. You can fly up to a meter. People who are physically close together or have frequently changing interlocutors, for example in customer contact, are more likely to be involved than those who work in large halls and are less exposed to others. Teachers and educators are particularly at risk because children are much more likely to catch colds than adults because their immune system is not yet mature.

There are often conflicts in offices about the room temperature and the ventilation situation. What do you advise?

If the heating in working rooms is set too high and too little ventilation, this provokes the passing on of colds. Regular airing reduces the amount of virus in the room and increases the humidity. Of course, this can lead to tensions among the work colleagues, because usually a different cold / heat sensation coincides. Most, however, understand when they explain why airing is important.

Air conditioners can also affect your health. In many offices, incorrectly set air conditioners cause cold, draft and dry air. These are all factors that favor a cold. Affected workers should ask their boss not to overheat the system.

What should I as an employee do when I feel the first symptoms of a cold?

Many start eating oranges at this stage, or taking vitamins to stay fit to work. To prevent the cold, but that is too late. A prophylactic home stay is also usually not necessary. However, physical effort should be avoided. Since the infection often begins with dysphagia and sore throat, it helps to keep the mucous membranes in the throat, mouth and nose particularly warm and moist.

In order not to infect other people, the motto is: keep your distance as far as possible. It is important to say why you keep your distance. Colleagues and customers will understand, because everyone already had a cold and nobody wants to get infected.

Can a cold get worse if I go to work anyway?

It depends on the profession. Anyone who does not have to work hard to get their cold symptoms under control can work. This does not apply to fever. Anyone who works anyway, risks secondary diseases, in the worst case a heart muscle inflammation. In cases of fever, the patient should therefore always visit his family doctor, because at this stage, the virus has already spread across the mucous membranes in the entire organism.

But even people who work primarily with their voice, such as singers, actors and call agents, should stay home with a sore throat, so that the vocal cords are not disturbed sustainably. Many who continue to use their voices at this stage will soon be out of earshot.

What should I do if I feel very bad but the workload in the workplace is extremely high and there is no substitute?

The decisive factor is ultimately the own assessment of the situation. However, the following question can help in the decision: Can the company afford to pay more than one worker? This means that the risk of infection with colds is very high and thus the loss of work of other employees is provoked when a cold continues to work.

Am I even allowed to work as an employee even though I am on sick leave?

If you feel better, why not? The medical report of the doctor is not a work ban, but merely a medically justified proof of incapacity for work. It is considered a certificate for the employer and the social security, which pays sickness pay after six weeks of sickness. However, this certificate does not prohibit premature re-entry into working life.

Can I do smaller purchases if I am on sick leave because of a cold?

A doctor's certificate of incapacity for work is not a go-around. The purchase of food, pharmacy visits, but also, for example, the walk to the bank are no problem. The self-sufficiency of the individual must be guaranteed. Inability to work is accompanied by no restrictions on the right to self-determination.

Also, the sufferer does not always have to be reachable by phone to his employer unless he has important items such as keys or documents that are important to the workflow. In such cases, a call from the company is legitimate.

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