Organisations often panic and go into wellness overdrive, wasting a lot of money when it comes to the management of TB in the workplace.
“Clients often demand that the whole organisation be screened just because one person has reported positive for the infection” says Dr Lerato Motshudi a Medical Advisor.
Since isolated chest x-rays are, on their own, inconclusive, there is in fact no way of ‘screening for TB’. “Lesions on a chest x-ray could be pneumonia, cancer, lymphoma, sarcoidosis or even just a fungal infection” explains Dr Motshudi.
For this reason the first step in the identification of diseases in general, and TB in particular should not involve expensive tests but rather start with the identification of symptoms and a proper assessment of the individual’s condition and circumstances.
To positively identify TB in the lungs, a patient’s symptoms together with his x-rays and even sputum results need to be combined.
Since these three steps would cost in the region of R500 per person “you can imagine the cost implications for a company of 3000 staff should everyone be comprehensively tested for TB” says Motshudi.
Costs aside, the psychological and morale implications of an ‘abnormal’ x-ray on an employee could be devastating. The employee would have to be subjected to further tests, some of which may be invasive and at personal cost, only to find that there is actually nothing wrong. Many of these investigations could take months to conclude.
Instead, Dr Motshudi suggests a simpler, more effective and much more affordable way of handling TB in organisations is by combining education with correct occupational practice.
Firstly, employees need to be informed of and, if necessary, trained in the basic occupational health and safety steps that prevent infection. Washing hands, working in well ventilated environments and covering mouths when coughing are, for example, three easy-to-implement practices that reduce infection.
Secondly, employees should be educated in how TB works and, more specifically, how it is transmitted.
“Once employees’ realise that it is not that simple to get communicable diseases, especially if you have the right occupational Health and Safety steps in place, people are far less likely to panic” says Dr. Motshudi.
Most importantly, education along with implementing sensible occupational health and safety practices can save organisations unnecessary expense along with the upheaval of subjecting an entire organisation to unwarranted tests.