The long winter months present employers and employees various seasonal hazards at the workplace. While some may be more obvious than others – like ice and snow – protecting your workplace from the flu is often overlooked, but a few tips can help keep you and your employees stay healthy all winter long.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the flu will cause U.S. workers to lose 111 million work-days at an estimated cost of $7B a year in sick time and lost productivity. It’s safe to say that an unmitigated flu risk can significantly affect a worker’s ability to provide for themselves and their families, but also it can greatly affect a company’s bottom line.
Seasonal vs. Pandemic Flu
This article offers workers and their employers some simple tips to help prevent the spread of seasonal flu. Each year the vaccine is updated to protect against the most common strains of the influenza virus based on the CDC’s research. The seasonal flu differs from pandemic flu in that they are common and have vaccines and antiviral medication readily available. Seasonal flu typically occurs annually and will peak between December and February while a pandemic flu usually springs up unexpectedly.
What can employers do?
- Encourage workers to get vaccinated. While every flu season differs, each year millions of people will get the flu, hundreds of thousands will be hospitalized, and as we touched upon earlier, the flu will have dramatic effects on productivity and a company’s bottom-line. By encouraging your employees to get vaccinated, you can improve their chances of staying healthy and productive all winter long.
- Running a flu clinic. Vaccination limits the spread of the flu. One way to promote vaccination is to provide employees with information and an opportunity to get vaccinated at little to no cost.
- Encourage sick workers to stay home. What’s worse than losing a key employee? Losing an entire department or workforce. A sick worker will spread the flu throughout your organization resulting in multiple absences related to the virus. To keep your site working, consider developing flexible leave policies that encourage sick workers to stay home without penalty. While it may not always be possible, consider exploring options that make sense for your company.
- Develop a policy for workers and clients who get sick on the job. Having a procedure in place in the event a worker or client gets sick in your workplace will help reduce the spread of the flu. Creating a policy where you can reduce exposure to a sick individual and minimize their interaction with others goes a long way in keeping all your employees healthy.
- Keep it clean. Making sure frequently touched work surfaces, equipment, and high traffic work areas are cleaned is crucial in preventing the spread of the flu. Employers should make available disinfectants and disposable towels for employees to keep their work areas clean.
What can workers do to stay healthy?
While employers have a financial incentive to provide procedures and policies to curb the risk associated with the flu in the workplace, it’s up to workers to help make them successful. Below are a handful of tips that can help keep you healthy even at the height of the flu season.
- Get vaccinated! We can’t stress how important getting vaccinated is to fight against the flu. Better to plan than to miss time on the job.
- Stay home if you’re sick. If you’re suffering from symptoms of the flu, stay home. You’re not only putting your coworkers at risk of contracting the flu, but you put yourself in danger. Don’t return to work if you are running a fever (anything over 100-degrees F) within the last 24 hours – it’s a clear sign that you’re still potentially contagious and need to rest.
- Keep your hands clean. Make sure to frequently wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are unavailable, make sure to use an alcohol-based rub as an alternative. Also, make sure to avoid touching your face, mouth, and eyes whenever possible; germs spread and get passed around by what we touch, keeping your hands clean can help stem the spread of the flu.
- Keep your work area clean. OSHA recommends that employers make disinfectants and disposable towels available to employees to help keep their work surfaces clean; it’s important that employees take advantage of this if available, especially during flu season.
- Stay in shape. Maintaining a healthy diet, getting lots of rest, exercising, and making time for relaxation is key to keeping you healthy year-round. Keeping up with a healthy lifestyle may even help you avoid the flu.
- Participate in any employer-offered training. If your employer is offering a flu clinic or similar informational seminar, make it a point to participate. Knowledge is power and this type of training can not only have benefits on the job but at home as well.
Related Course: First Aid/CPR Training
While there are many financial incentives for avoiding the flu this season, staying healthy is its own reward. Applying a common-sense policy that allows sick employees to get better keeps everyone healthy and productive. By the same token, employees should be aware that they have the power to keep the flu from spreading by taking the simple steps above.