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Employers Should Protect Workers Against the Flu

December 18, 2015
 / Safety / 

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While winter weather means a greater risk of cold stress illnesses and injuries for those in construction who work outside year-round, the chillier season also means dangers could be lurking indoors as well.

Winter is prime flu season, and companies should do all they can to prevent the spread of influenza.

Track flu levels nationwide here.

Each flu season, nearly 111 million workdays are lost to the virus, according to FLU.gov. That equals approximately $7 billion each year in sick days and lost productivity across all industries.

There are some steps organizations can take to help protect their employees and keep them healthy throughout the winter months.

Learn more about keeping workers safe in the winter here.

Of course, the single best way to prevent getting the seasonal flu is to get the annual flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Organizations should encourage all workers to get the seasonal flu vaccine when it is available, if they are able. Consider hosting a flu vaccination clinic in your workplace, limiting the number of excuses your employees have about the convenience or cost of getting the vaccine.

Keep in mind that those at higher risk for flu – such as people with diabetes, asthma, heart conditions, those who are pregnant or nursing, those over age 65, and young children – are in special need of the vaccine.

Workers who do get sick should be advised to stay home if at all possible. Anyone with a fever and respiratory symptoms should stay home until 24 hours after the fever subsides (below 100 degrees Fahrenheit) without medication. Some with the flu will not show fever, but other symptoms could include a runny nose, body aches, headache, tiredness, diarrhea, or vomiting.

Flexible leave policies encourage workers to stay home without penalty if they are sick. Human resource policies should be discussed with staff, to ensure that workers can and will stay home if necessary.

If someone becomes ill while at work, they should be sent home immediately or separated from other employees if possible until they can go home.

Proper hygiene can go a long way in preventing most illnesses. Post signs that tell workers, visitors, and clients the steps for proper hand hygiene, and provide easy access to supplies needed to stay clean.

Proper hand hygiene includes washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, or coming into contact with mucus or contaminated objects and surfaces. If no water and soap is available, alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used instead. Always use disposable towels after washing hands.

Cough etiquette provides that you cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, or that you cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve. Dispose of any used tissues in a wastebasket, ensuring that others will not touch them.

A clean workplace will also help keep the flu at bay. Frequently clean all commonly touched work surfaces and equipment, and provide disinfectants and disposable towels for workers to clean their own work areas.

Aside from your own workplace, consider where your employees will be traveling, and reconsider any business trips to areas with high illness rates. See up-to-date travel advisories here.

And if a worker does become sick during a business trip, the CDC recommends that they notify their supervisors immediately. Workers who become ill while traveling and are at higher risk of flu complications should call their healthcare provider immediately. They should check themselves for fever and any other signs of flu-like illness before travel, and notify their supervisors and stay home if they feel sick 

Also, organizations should educate employees about the flu – such as signs, symptoms, and complications – as well as any conditions that may put them at a higher risk for complications from the flu.

Read more about preventing the flu at work here.

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