Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a highly infectious disease that has impacted our social, family and working lives.
It has increased the potential for workplace alcohol- and drug-related harm. Workers may increase their use of alcohol and / or other drugs to cope with:
The report Australians’ Drug Use: Adapting to Pandemic Threats (ADAPT) Study indicates that cannabis and alcohol use have increased since the beginning of March 2020.
In addition to workers experiencing alcohol- and drug-related issues, other vulnerable workers at greater risk of serious COVID-19 related illness include:
Women working from home and home schooling children during the pandemic appear to be at risk of increased alcohol consumption, whereas men appear to be drinking less. This may be linked to the stress and anxiety experienced in response to juggling heavy domestic loads and working from home, while also trying to home school children. A 2020 article in The Conversation further highlights the implications for workplaces.
Similar to tobacco, COVID-19 harms the body’s cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
Smoking increases the duration and severity of viral infections. There is evidence of a significant association between smoking and increased severity of COVID-19. People with COVID-19 who have pre-existing smoking-related health conditions suffer worse outcomes.
Irritation caused by smoking tobacco can cause smokers to cough more frequently. Coughing is a risk factor for the spread of COVID-19. Remind anyone coughing to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue or use their elbow, not their hands.
Australian smokers have been encouraged to quit for their respiratory health and it’s even more timely now to encourage workers and workmates to consider quitting.
Ongoing stress from the global pandemic may increase mental health problems. Some workers struggle with feelings of uncertainty, stress and anxiety, or adjusting to self-isolation or working from home.
Many workplaces can support their workers by staying connected (e.g., regularly checking in with each other), helping workers recognise signs of not coping and where to get help. Importantly, starting a conversation is a crucial first step and the following fact sheet Coronavirus (COVID-19): Looking after your Mental Health produced by Comcare provides some useful tips for workplaces.
Other mental health-related and work / life balance strategies include encouraging workers to establish structured routines e.g., sleeping, eating and self-care and hygiene; keeping busy; exercising regularly outside as much as possible. The Heads Up website provides tips and strategies for workers and workplaces on how to manage the mental health impacts of COVID-19.
As businesses re-open and workers return it is important that workplaces assess risks to identify and respond to:
Practical responses to reducing identified workplace risks include:
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