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November 9, 2017

How to Protect Workers from 2017-18 Seasonal Flu

Prevent the spread of flu
It's THAT time of year again! No, not just family dinners, seasonal decorations and gifts. It's flu season! The time of year when people head indoors and share germs and end up feeling miserable. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say there are many influenza viruses that constantly change. Fortunately, some basic precautions can help people avoid the flu and stop it's spread in the workplace. 

Here's important information from OSHA and the CDC on how to protect workers whose jobs involve contact with coworkers and the general public. This information provides a baseline for infection control during a seasonal flu outbreak, but it may not be enough to protect workers during a pandemic.(There are different specific recommendations for Healthcare workers.) 

Basic Flu Precautions for Most Workplaces

Encourage Workers to Get Vaccinated

Encourage workers to get the seasonal flu vaccine when it is available. Consider hosting a flu vaccination clinic in your workplace. Vaccination is the most effective means of preventing flu. Vaccines take time to become effective, so early vaccination is important. Don't wait until people are sick to hold a vaccination clinic.

Encourage Sick Workers to Stay Home

Encourage sick workers to stay home. The CDC recommends that workers who have a fever and respiratory symptoms stay at home until 24 hours after their fever ends (100 F or lower), without the use of medication. Not everyone who has the flu will have a fever. Other symptoms could include a runny nose, body aches, headache, tiredness, diarrhea, or vomiting.

Develop flexible leave policies that encourage workers to stay home, without penalty, if they are sick. Discuss other human resource policies with staff, including administrative leave transfer between employees, pay policy for sick leave, childcare options, and what to do when ill during travel.

Develop a Policy for Workers and Clients Who Become Ill in the Workplace

Develop a policy on how to deal with workers and clients who may be ill with the flu and communicate it to your workers. Determine who will be responsible for assisting ill individuals in the workplace and make sure that at least one person can serve as the "go to" person if someone becomes sick in the workplace. Consider how to separate ill workers from others, or give them a surgical mask to wear until they can go home.

Wash your hands so you can stop germs sign

Promote Hand Hygiene and Cough Etiquette

Post handwashing signs that tell workers, visitors, and clients the steps for proper hand hygiene and cough etiquette. Workers, visitors, and clients should have easy access to supplies such as:
  • "No touch" wastebaskets for used tissues;
  • Soap and water;
  • Alcohol-based hand rubs;
  • Disposable towels;
  • Cleaning and sanitation materials.

Keep the Workplace Clean

Frequently clean all commonly touched work surfaces, work areas, and equipment (e.g., telephones, doorknobs, lunch areas, countertops, copiers, etc.). Use your standard cleaning agents and follow the label directions. No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended by CDC. Provide disinfectants and disposable towels for workers to use to clean their work spaces and surfaces and to keep work areas clean. 

Educate Workers About the Flu

Train workers about how flu can be transmitted in the workplace and what precautions they can use to prevent transmission. Provide information about the following:
  • Signs, symptoms, and complications of the flu
  • Policies and procedures for reporting flu symptoms, using sick leave, and returning to work
  • Vaccination
  • Any required work practices
The CDC has identified groups that have a higher risk for complications from seasonal flu (e.g., elderly, pregnant women, small children, persons with asthma, etc.). Inform workers that some people are at higher risk of complications from flu and suggest that they talk to their doctor about their own risk and what to do if they become ill.

Address Travel and Sickness While on Travel

Reconsider business travel to areas with high illness rates. The CDC recommends the following measures for workers who becomes ill while on travel:
  • Advise workers who become ill while traveling or on temporary assignment to notify their supervisors.
  • Workers who become ill while traveling and are at increased risk of flu complications and others concerned about their illness should promptly call a healthcare provider.
  • Advise workers to check themselves for fever and any other signs of flu-like illness before starting travel and to notify their supervisors and stay home if they feel ill.

Following these precautions can help protect your workers - and your business - from the flu this year.

Seasonal Flu Resources for the Workplace:

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