Hear that sniffling and sneezing around you? There is no doubt about it: flu season is upon us once again. This frigid time of year brings with it many workplace concerns, from winter weather driving to winter work safety, and flu prevention is a serious issue among them. A case of the flu can spread like wildfire around a workplace. No one likes getting sick, and, beyond that, when influenza puts several employees down for the count, it can significantly reduce workplace productivity over the long winter months. But there is good news! By following a few easy prevention tips, employers can gain the upper hand and significantly reduce the flu’s impact on workplaces this season.
One of the foremost steps an employer should take to enact flu prevention in the workplace is to raise flu awareness among employees. It is, of course, common knowledge that this is flu season. Even so, reminding employees of this fact can be immensely helpful. Putting the flu toward the forefront of employees’ consciousness can increase the precautions they take. Employers should make an effort to educate workers on influenza signs and symptoms. For instance, employees should know that the flu typically comes on quickly and is different from a cold, although it shares many of the same symptoms, such as: cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. In some cases, an individual who has contracted the flu will also have a fever, feverish chills, vomiting or diarrhea, but an individual may still have the flu in the absence of these particular symptoms. Employees who come down with flu-like symptoms should monitor their health and take extra preventative measures to avoid potentially spreading the virus in the workplace.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends encouraging influenza vaccination among workers. According to the CDC, every individual over six months of age should be getting a flu vaccine every season. An annual flu vaccine is the most surefire way to prevent yourself from catching the flu and spreading it to others in the workplace. Vaccines are available in both traditional shot form and as a nasal spray, which is particularly convenient for those with a phobia of needles. A certain degree of misinformation and urban myths surround flu vaccines and vaccinations in general. It may be helpful to dispel myths in order to make employees more comfortable and confident in getting a flu vaccination as a prevention measure. For instance, it is important to emphasize that the flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Employees who are over 65, who are pregnant or who suffer from certain chronic medical conditions should be made aware that they are at increased risk of complications from flu that could lead to serious health problems. It is particularly important for such individuals and those in the workplace around them to consider getting vaccinated for the flu. Employers should encourage any such employees who contract flu should consult a physician and should take time off from work until they have fully recovered.
Simple but crucial ways to prevent the spread of influenza in the workplace include proper hand and respiratory hygiene practices. Employees should wash their hands regularly with soap and hot water, particularly after using the restroom or shaking hands. In fact, it may be wise to advise employees to avoid shaking hands during flu season. Hand sanitizers are another useful tool, but they should be used in moderation, and are not a substitute for soap and water. Covering coughs and sneezes is not only common courtesy, but also helps prevent the spread of airborne flu pathogens. Posting signage throughout the workplace politely reminding employees to wash their hands thoroughly and cover their coughs can help to maintain workers’ flu mindfulness and safe practices. Email can also be useful to inform workers about safe practices in more detail. Surfaces can play a large, underestimated role in spreading influenza. Employers should frequently disinfect work surfaces such as telephones computers, and office equipment with sanitizing wipes. Flu prevention products, like healthcare masks, can also be helpful. A designated workplace health monitor can keep track of the above policies and see that they are maintained to ensure flu prevention.
Offer Work-From-Home Options
It is always a safe bet to establish a policy of sending employees with the flu or flu-like symptoms home. While employees may be inclined to be troopers and work through their illness, it is best for the workplace as a whole for them to stay at home in order to prevent the spread of the flu to others. Employers should consider expanding their work-from-home options and capabilities in order to maintain productivity throughout flu season and to encourage sick employees to stay home while still feeling like they have put in their fair share of work.
Practice these simple steps, and remember that the health and well-being of individual workers should always come first, and you should be able to effectively tough out and prevent the flu in your workplace this season.