Flu & Illness: Preparing Your Workplace
Every year, without fail, flu season hits. While influenza and other viruses pose high health risks for individuals, an outbreak at the office can also affect business operations. All it takes is one employee and one sneeze to put others at risk and spread the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu viruses can spread to people from up to 6 feet away through droplets made by sneezing, coughing or talking.* Even before showing symptoms, an infected employee who sneezes during a meeting or coughs at someone's desk without covering his or her mouth can expose others to the flu.
Small businesses can be even more vulnerable if multiple employees call in sick due to flu-related illnesses. Fewer hands on deck could potentially impact productivity and operations.
Following are Tips to Help Reduce the Potential Spread of the Flu:
- Make the Flu Vaccine Available for Employees
The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine every year. However, finding time to get the vaccine may be difficult for some. If possible, employers should consider hosting a vaccine clinic onsite. By having it available at work, employees should be able to take care of this simple task quickly and easily.
- Encourage Proper Handwashing
Encourage employees to wash their hands properly: Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place, or after blowing one’s nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
- Keep Work Spaces Clean
Generally, human flu viruses can survive on surfaces for two to eight hours, so encourage employees to clean their desks regularly. When buying cleaning supplies, read the label to make sure it states that the product is effective against flu viruses, such as Influenza A. Other good hygiene steps include:
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
- Putting distance between yourself and other people.
- Staying home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
- Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or use the inside of your elbow.
- Throw used tissues in the trash.
- Immediately clean your hands.
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily (doorknobs, light switches, handles, keyboards, phones, desks, etc.).
- Offer the Option to Go Virtual
Most people do not realize they can spread the flu virus to others one day before they show any symptoms and up to seven days after becoming ill. Small business owners should make employees aware of this fact and provide opportunities to reduce in-person interactions, as this can help minimize the spread of the flu in the office. There are still ways to get work done so consider giving employees an option to work from home. They can stay connected through emails or phone calls, and conduct meetings online.
- Be Open to Deferring Travel
Small business owners should also be open to rescheduling business trips. If workers are not feeling well before a trip, encourage them to reschedule to a later date so that they are not sick while away from home. If travel plans involve airplanes, fellow passengers will be grateful for that decision as well.
- Hand Out the Tip Sheet….Now!
Even before flu season hits, hand out a short, informative document to employees on ways to help reduce the spread of the flu, such as washing hands properly and regularly and avoiding touching your eye, nose or mouth (entry points into the body for germs). For more information, consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for additional suggestions on preventing the flu and maintaining good health habits.
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