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Avoid Contracting the Flu at Work

December 16, 2015
 / Safety / 

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Construction workers are typically considered the big, bad, tough guys who work long hours through sickness and exhaustion.

But there are limits for even the toughest workers when it comes to workplace safety and health, and the flu should be one of them.

Influenza is a contagious disease that affects the lungs and can lead to serious illness, including pneumonia. Even healthy people can get sick enough to be hospitalized from the flu.

And one person with the flu can mean an entire workforce out sick, especially when workers are not properly vaccinated against the influenza virus. You certainly don’t want a flu epidemic spreading around your company.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that all employers have a flu plan in place to be able to easily control an outbreak. OSHA warns, however, that these plans may not be enough for a pandemic flu outbreak – one in which the virus causes severe illness and death in larger numbers of people. This type of plan should be based on a worst-case scenario.

See tips for staying safe and healthy while working outside during the winter months here.

Vaccination is the most important step in preventing the spread of the flu. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone who is able get the flu shot – even the healthiest of the population. Pregnant women, young children, people older than age 65, and those with certain chronic medical conditions – such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease – are at increased risk of serious flu-related complications are and especially encouraged to be vaccinated, as are people who will be around these individuals.

Others at high risk include those with neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, chronic lung disease, blood disorders, endocrine disorders, kidney and liver disorders, metabolic disorders, those with weakened immune systems due to disease or medication, or those who are morbidly obese (BMI of 40 or greater).

And don’t worry about the flu vaccine making you sick. The vaccine has been given to hundreds of millions of people for more than 50 years, and the CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) work closely to ensure the highest safety standards. The most common side effects of the vaccine are an achy feeling or a sore arm where the shot was received, or a stuffy nose and sore throat if a nasal spray flu vaccine was received. These side effects are not symptoms of the flu and should be mild, lasting only one to two days at most.

The CDC also recommends that workers who have a fever and respiratory symptoms stay home from work until 24 hours after their fever subsides (below 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Runny nose, body aches, headache, tiredness, diarrhea, and vomiting are all common flu symptoms. Even if you don’t think your illness is the flu, you don’t have a fever, or you show no symptoms at all, you could still infect others.

To avoid contracting the virus, wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for 20 seconds, and use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are unavailable. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and cover any coughs or sneezes with a tissue or with your sleeve. Be sure to clean your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose to avoid passing infectious germs on to others.

At work, keep frequently touched common areas, such as telephones, shared computer equipment, lobby desks and counters, etc., as clean as possible, using disinfectant cleaners. Try to avoid using coworkers’ phones, desks, computers, or other work equipment, if possible. If you do have to use others’ equipment, consider disinfecting it first, or at the very least wash your hands after use.

While it may seem rude to some, avoiding shaking hands or coming in close contact with coworkers and others who may be ill is another great way to prevent spreading the flu.

Staying healthy during flu season is easier to do if you stay healthy year-round. Being in shape, eating a healthy diet, and getting plenty of rest, exercise, and relaxation will boost your immune system and keep you healthier in general.

Participate in any safety and health trainings offered by your employer to make sure you understand how to stay healthy at work.

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