Flu season is like hurricane season—it happens at the same time every year, causes major financial losses, and leaves death in its wake.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the flu cost the economy more than $87 billion annually and is responsible for the loss of close to 17 million workdays every season. Tens of thousands of people are hospitalized with thousands dying from flu-related illnesses each year in the United States alone. However, just like in hurricane season, proper planning can help mitigate any problems your workplace may face.
The most effective defense is vaccination. Sponsoring an on-site clinic during work hours is the best way to reach most employees, who may be encouraged by their colleagues. If that’s not possible, try to make arrangements with a nearby pharmacy or clinic. Of course, wherever the dose is given, it’s important management lead by example.
Consider vaccinations as stage one. Stage two kicks in as sniffles and sneezes start to appear. Be ready and stocked up with:
- Plenty of soap and towels for hand washing at all sinks.
- Alcohol-gel hand sanitizers and wipes positioned freely about the workplace.
- Tissues throughout the workplace.
- Cleaning supplies for sanitizing frequently touched areas like banisters and keyboards.
Absences will happen with some being lengthy. Make part of your plan a cross-training program (a good idea regardless) so someone can fill in for an employee who is ill or is taking care of someone at home. It’s better they stay home than bring the flu to work and spread the illness.
Much of flu prevention concentrates on individuals. Employees are on the front line, at work and at home. Their efforts protect themselves and others. The Center for Hygiene & Health in Home and Community recommends workers:
- Get vaccinated.
- Wash hands with soap for 15-20 seconds several times per day, and make frequent use of alcohol-gel hand sanitizers.
- Ensure shared surfaces are cleaned (e.g., copier machines, doorknobs, coffee pot handles, etc.) with gel or wipes.
- Use a tissue when they sneeze or cough and throw it away immediately. If no tissue is handy, sneeze into an elbow rather than hands.
- Avoid people who are sick.
- Stay away from work if they get sick.
Share your plan with the employees so they understand contingencies to expect when flu season hits. Employees, of course, would be quite helpful developing, procuring for and implementing the plan. The CDC also is a valuable ally, with all sorts of posters and materials for download. It also offers “To Fight The Flu,” an online toolkit for businesses and employers that includes checklists and other aids for planning your fight.
It’s not too late to start pulling together a plan now. Preparation is key, and vigilance is the byword in keeping the flu at bay in your workplace.
For more information on employee health and safety, contact Vanguard Resources.