How to Protect Your Health at Work During COVID-19

On the front lines or returning to work? Practice preventive measures and self-care to protect your health.

The coronavirus health crisis has made it critical for all workers to take steps to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to themselves and others. Protecting public health and personal safety are top of mind for essential workers and those who are heading back to work. But for many — especially workers whose jobs never required the sanitary procedures that are standard in healthcare — this is a first.

Unfortunately, there's good reason to be on high alert. The World Economic Forum reports that millions of people are putting themselves at risk when they go to work. In the United States alone, 14.4 million workers face exposure to COVID-19 infection at work once a week and 26.7 million at least once a month.

Employers are taking necessary precautions to protect their people, but a little personal preparation can go a long way. These tips can help you protect your health, boost your overall wellbeing and help you return to work or continue to work safely during the COVID-19 situation.

Follow Best Practices

Your employer is likely aware of current best practices that should help all employees reduce their risk of infection on the job. It's important for you to know them too. Reach out to your manager and ask for a complete list of safety procedures and workplace guidelines if you don't have them handy. If they don't have something they can send you, refer to the World Health Organization's (WHO's) guidelines for COVID-19 preparations in the workplace. Other verified sources, like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), can help you stay informed as new information comes out.

Even if you take all necessary precautions, you might come into contact with someone who has COVID-19. It's important to know what to do if you think you've been exposed to the virus. Read the CDC's guide for what to do if you've been exposed to COVID-19, and if it happens, follow best practices and get in touch with your manager or employer right away.

Take Care of Your Immune System

Do a quick search on the internet, and you'll find products, articles and advice galore on how to boost your immune system. The truth is, there's no quick fix. However, you can keep your immune system running at its best by practicing regular self-care. Here are a few evidence-based ways to help your body fight off disease:

  • Eat a well-rounded diet. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals fuel your immune system. Look for foods such as strawberries, citrus fruits, nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens like kale, broccoli and spinach, and salmon, tuna or chicken.
  • Lower your stress. Take a few minutes each day to pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Work in a few relaxing activities every day to help you unwind. 
  • If you smoke, consider cutting back or quitting. Smoking can hinder your body's ability to fight off infection. The good news? It's never too late to quit. 
  • Get some sleep. Aside from feeling drowsy on the job, regularly not getting enough sleep can start to impact your immune system. Try to stick to a regular bedtime, limit time on your devices right before you tuck in and keep your bedroom dark, quiet and cool. And, when all else fails, take a nap!

Make Time for Self-Care

You've heard it before, and we'll say it again: remember to take breaks throughout the workday. Even if you can only squeeze in a few minutes here and there. Fuel up with a nutritious snack, grab a drink of water, step outside for fresh air or sit down to rest your feet. You can also create space to take care of your mental wellbeing. Deep breathing exercises can keep stress levels in check and a quick call to a loved one may just boost your mood. Working in time for self-care throughout the day can keep you feeling refreshed and ready to tackle what's next.

Monitor Your News and Media Intake

Working during a public health crisis while managing so many changes at once is a lot to handle on its own. The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about coronavirus can add to heightened levels of anxiety and may take a toll on your psychological wellbeing.

With the COVID-19 pandemic dominating news cycles, watch smart and avoid overexposure. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. 

If you're feeling overwhelmed, minimize watching, reading or listening to news that causes you to feel anxious or distressed. Seek information only from trusted sources, like the World Health Organization (WHO) or the CDC. Set aside specific times during the day, once or twice, to get your news.

Take Precautions With Meetings and Travel

Even during a health crisis, you still need to attend meetings. If you have to meet with others in person, hold meetings in open, well-ventilated spaces and wear necessary protective gear like face masks or coverings. Whenever possible, use videoconferencing or talk over the phone. Also consider adjusting or converting large meetings or gatherings into smaller meetings to avoid crowded rooms.

If you must travel, follow the guidelines of local authorities. This might mean self-quarantining upon arrival or complying with a mandatory health screening. While traveling, be extra diligent. Wash your hands regularly, wear a face mask and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.

If in Doubt, Stay Home

If you feel under the weather, have a raised body temperature or have any reason to be concerned about your health at work, just stay home. If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 call your healthcare provider and follow their advice. Right now, your health has to come first. Taking care of your health is the best way to protect the health of those around you.