The cold season is here – and with it comes flu season. Every year, the Canadian winter brings about an estimated 3,500 influenza-related deaths, with around 20,000 people getting hospitalized. Since the flu is highly contagious, it can easily be transferred from one person to another by the simple acts of shaking hands, coughing, sneezing, or just being in close contact with someone who is sick. So what is the best way to deal with this? The answer is the most sensible one: through prevention.
One of the most vulnerable places to catch the flu is the workplace. Colds and viruses not only get transferred from person to person, but also from surface to surface. When an infected co-worker coughs or sneezes in the air, the flu or cold virus becomes airborne while flu droplets can lands on work surfaces. When another person breathes the infected air or comes into contact with the affected surface, the virus is then transferred.
Preventing the flu in the workplace can be easy with proper guidelines and the right tools on hand. The following steps can help you create a flu-free work environment and get you ready to take the cold season head-on:
- Know the lowdown on influenza. Educate yourself and your staff on what the flu is and what it isn’t. You can do this by posting and distributing educational materials to your employees on general flu facts, the importance of flu vaccinations, proper cleaning and disinfection. You can also provide office wellness tips on how to stay healthy this winter.
- Start a flu vaccination campaign. According to FightFlu.ca, flu shots can prevent flu illness in up to 70% of healthy children and adults. Encourage your employees to get a flu vaccine for themselves and their family. You can work with a community mass vaccinator to schedule an onsite or offsite flu vaccination clinic. Allow your employees time off to get vaccinated. You can even cover the flu vaccines with low or no-pocket costs through your company’s health plans. Lastly, promote your flu shot drive through staff meetings, employee newsletters, email notices, or through employee engagement activities such as employee vaccination contests and trivia games.
- Promote sanitary practices in your workplace. Start talking to your staff about the importance of covering coughs and sneezes, and disinfecting hands after. Hand washing is the single most effective way of preventing the spread of infections. Make sure everyone is washing their hands often and properly with soap and warm water for at least twenty seconds to eliminate bacteria and viruses.
- Step up your cleanliness program at work. Did you know that on average your work desk alone contains 400 times more bacteria than a toilet, and that they can live for up to 48 hours on your desk? Let your staff know about these numbers and put emphasize on hygiene in the workplace. Make sure that common surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, keyboards, telephones, and other frequently touched objects are regularly cleaned and disinfected.
- Make hygiene and disinfecting products available to everyone. Provide tissues, hand soap, disinfectants, disposable towels, and germ-killing hand sanitizers for your staff to clean their hands and work surfaces. Place these products in areas identified as germ hot spots and consider using hands-free soap dispensers in the bathrooms.
- Protect your staff. Your staff is your most valuable asset. Encourage workers to stay home when sick. Many employees come to work sick because they can’t afford to miss work or are concerned with absenteeism. Offer flexibility in work schedules so your staff can stay home when sick or work from home. A worker who comes in sick will just put his co-workers at risk of also catching the flu.
- Provide the proper PPE apparel to your workers. Workers who are exposed to cold and wet weather without the appropriate winter PPE are not only in danger of potential accidents, but also of health hazards. Make sure your employees are wearing the correct PPE clothing and are following safety protocols while performing their tasks.
As an employer, it is also important that you set a good example and follow your own advice on flu prevention. This means that you also observe the proper hygiene, use the correct winter PPE tools, stay home when you are sick to keep your germs out of the workplace. A widespread outbreak of the flu or a pandemic in your workplace can have serious consequences. Everyone at work needs to take these steps to prevent the spread of germs and viruses that is critical to good health. As the old saying goes, prevention is still the best medicine. It also makes for good business sense.
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