“Medical crisis.” “New staph strain raises red flags.” “Superbug taking great toll.”
These headlines, and more like them, shook up the country during the fall—and prompted HR pros to take precautions in their workplaces.
Government researchers issued a warning about the recent spread of MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, an easily acquired staph infection that causes more deaths per year than AIDS. A government study says MRSA killed 19,000 people in the United States in 2005.
Doctors used to believe that hospitals were the top breeding grounds for staph infection outbreaks. No more. New research finds that the deadliest form of MRSA infects people at school, at home and in the workplace.
Recent outbreaks in school districts across the nation and the death of an otherwise healthy high school football player in Virginia spotlighted the MRSA problem.
5 steps to a safer workplace
HR can play an important role in minimizing the risks. Protection relies on common sense: Cleanliness stops most infections before they turn deadly.
Most staph infections cause only minor skin irritations. But so-called “community-acquired” MRSA, which spreads through contact, can cause havoc if it enters a victim’s body through a small break in the skin, such as a bug bite or a paper cut. That makes prevention essential.
Simple measures can help prevent MRSA infections in the workplace:
1. Encourage hand washing. Post signs in restrooms encouraging employees to wash.
2. Supply anti-bacterial gel. Mount dispensers in restrooms, break rooms or by entrances.
3. Spread the word: Don’t share towels. If towels are used at work or play in your workplace, remind workers not to share them. If your restrooms still use a rolling cloth towel dispenser, now’s the time to install hand dryers or paper towels.
4. Supply bandages to cover wounds. MRSA needs a pathway into the body to spread. So it’s crucial for everyone to cover cuts, scrapes or bug bites.
5. Send employees for treatment. Anyone with an abscess or swelling anywhere on the body should be sent for medical attention right away. Because MRSA can be deadly, immediate assessment and treatment are essential.
To learn more details and prevention advice, go to www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dhqp/ar_mrsa_ca_public.html.