First-responders hesitant to work in a pandemic

If a possibly lethal pandemic hits, don't count on many essential workers to show up for work. More than half of first responders and other essential workers surveyed would skip work during such a pandemic, even if they're healthy, according to a survey of New York area essential workers conducted by researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

Data indicate that "non-illness related shortfalls among essential workers could be substantial," Dr. Robyn Gershon, lead author and associate dean for research resources at Mailman, said in a statement. Although 80 percent of the workers would be available to report for duty, only 65 percent were willing to show up for work.

Front line workers were more willing to report for work if their employers gave them respirators, paid for vaccines and established a pandemic response plan. Earlier experience also made workers much more open to showing up for work during a pandemic.

To address the potential absenteeism before an emergency hits, ensure organizational policies and programs help your workers meet their personal obligations, Gershon suggested.

Building worker trust in your organization's ability to protect them is key. Workers who believe that their employer will protect them during an infectious disease outbreak are more likely not to skip work. But many, according to the study, were not fully aware of their employer's pandemic emergency plans. Of those surveyed, only 9 percent were aware of their workplace's pandemic plans, and just 15 percent had ever received pandemic influenza training at work.

For the study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, more than 1,100 front line workers in the New York City area were surveyed. They included hospital employees, police and fire department workers, emergency medical services workers, public health workers and correctional facility officers.

To learn more:
- see the abstract in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
- read the press release from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health
- read the Los Angeles Times article
- here is the UPI article

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