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Safety Management Insights

Strategies for Preventing the Flu at Your Workplace

Posted by Don Brown on Apr 3, 2017 8:30:00 AM

preventing the fluWorried about the flu’s effect on your workforce? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the annual costs of influenza in the United States are $4.6 billion. What’s more, the flu leads to losses of up to 111 million workdays and $7 billion in sick days and lost productivity. Flu season is in full swing, and if you want to keep your workers safe, comfortable and productive, you’ll need to put in play a few specific policies. Following are our top strategies for preventing the flu this year.

Annual Flu Shots

The CDC says the best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated every year. Fortunately, the flu vaccine is quick, readily available and cheap—even free in some places! Many employers require proof of vaccination, but a more effective strategy may be to offer free vaccinations on-site. Local pharmacies will often provide bulk discounts during flu season, and you’ll ultimately boost your bottom line if the shots lead to fewer sick days and greater productivity.

Spotting Signs and Symptoms

Education empowers workers to take control of their own health and keep an eye out for their fellow employees. Make sure your workers can recognize the following flu signs and symptoms, so they can take action (or time off) before they infect others.

  • Fever
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Warm, flushed skin
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Headache
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat and runny nose

Hand Hygiene

Aside from vaccination, consistent hand hygiene is the best way to prevent the spread of the flu. Workers should avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, and all personnel should wash their hands frequently. Placing hand sanitizer stations throughout your worksites also will make a massive difference, especially when your workers don’t have access to sinks and soap as they work.

Extra Cleaning

Desktops, doorknobs and other commonly handled surfaces often carry more germs than tubs and toilet seats. The flu is mainly transmitted through respiratory droplets, but those droplets can land on other surfaces and affect passersby. The same is true for personal protective equipment that workers share. Overall, now is the time to be extra diligent in cleaning, both in your offices and at your jobsites. A few extra cleaning shifts will be well worth the cost if it helps even one worker avoid infection.

Employee Wellness

Millions of people come into contact with the flu every year, but not all of them get sick. Now more than ever, you want your workers’ immune systems to be in tip-top shape — and that requires good nutrition, regular exercise and other healthy habits. Workplace wellness programs and insurance incentives are excellent for encouraging these habits.

Sick Worker Action Plans

Your workers may know how to avoid the flu, but have you told them what they should do if they get it? Pride, financial concerns or just plain toughness may push them to work when they’re sick, putting other employees at risk. Make sure they know that they need to stay home and get well, and that they shouldn’t return to work until their symptoms are gone. The CDC says that workers who display fevers and respiratory symptoms should stay home until 24 hours after their fever ends. The same is true for a runny nose, aches and stomach symptoms.

Sick Day Policies

Education and warnings won’t make a difference if you have unforgiving sick leave policies. It may not make sense to offer additional PTO, but unpaid sick days could be the difference between one worker getting sick and several. Flexibility also helps, and this is a great time to allow workers to work from home or trade shifts.

Company-wide Effort

Effective flu prevention must be a company-wide effort, and your workers, safety team, executive team and other stakeholders need to be on board. To make sure everyone understands your prevention strategies, sick day policies and other expectations, use a digital policies and procedures management system. You’ll save paper and time, and you’ll be able to instantly update everyone in your company on your latest policies and procedures.

The flu doesn’t have to force a slowdown at your workplace. Looking for other ways to maintain or increase productivity? We have lots of ideas. Subscribe to our blog for more.

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