6 Ways to Prepare your Workplace for Cold and Flu Season
According to WebMD, each year, between 5% and 20% of Americans get the flu and miss a staggering 70 million work days as a result.
So far this season, between about 6 million and 7 million people have been sick with flu, and up to half of those people have sought medical care for their illness, according to the CDC.
With the 2018-19 flu season well underway, there are still things you can do to prepare your workplace for the peak of cold and flu season.
1. Monitor flu alerts from the CDC
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) publishes a weekly U.S. influenza surveillance report. They report the geographic spread of influenza as widespread, regional, local, sporadic, or no activity by state. This tool can help you determine which of your facilities are most likely to be affected in the upcoming weeks. .
2. Stock OTC cold and flu tablets and monitor your supply
While American National Standard Institute (ANSI) minimum requirements for workplace first-aid kits and supplies don’t include OTC medications, analgesics are included in a list of optional items.
Consider stocking your first aid cabinets with over the counter (OTC) cold and flu relief. This can increase productivity and morale. It can also help prevent employees from sharing prescription medicines with each other, or sharing medicine that could cause drowsiness.
Here are some examples of what to include:
- Congestion and headache relief
- Cold, cough and flu relief
- Cold shortening lozenges
- Cough drops
Never stock medicines that may cause drowsiness. OTC medications must meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration single-dose, tamper-evident packaging and labeling standards.
While employee comfort items such as these are not required by ANSI, you should know the First Aid Kit Requirements in the Workplace.
Designate someone to monitor your inventory and restock as necessary, especially during peak cold and flu season, which runs from December through February. You can also use a restocking service, such as ITU AbsorbTech First Aid.
3. Keep public/common areas disinfected
Keep common areas such as a restroom or breakroom, as well as public areas such as a lobby properly stocked with hand sanitizer and tissue, and disinfectant wipes (disinfect daily during peak season).
Evaluate your cleaning strategies for bathrooms, breakrooms, plat floor, and common office areas. Have a plan in place for routine disinfection.
You may also want to consider offering warm tea, orange juice, apples, etc. in the breakroom or lobby.
4. Promote good hygiene and wellness
This is a great time to launch a wellness and prevention education program.
Encourage healthy practices, like eating healthy, getting sunshine, exercise, etc. You could even host a wellness fair.
Provide tips on how to stay healthy at work and how to prevent the flu from spreading. The CDC has some excellent resources here: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/consumer/prevention.htm
Tips to prevent the spread of influenza in the workplace:
– Sanitize your workspace, keyboard, mobile phone, etc.
– Wash hands often and properly. Check out our video on proper hand washing.
– Cover coughs and sneezes
– Avoid close contact with people who are sick
– Don’t share equipment with co-workers
– Don’t touch nose, mouth, or eyes
– Get vaccinated
– Stay home if you are sick with the flue
Consider offering flu shots on-site for employees.
5. Update and review HR policies
Ensure employees are educated about sick day policies and encourage people to stay home when they are sick with the flu. The CDC recommends that workers with a fever and respiratory symptoms stay home until 24 hours after their fever ends (100° F or lower) without the use of medication.
Review your policy for allowing employees to work from home so that they can still be productive when they call in sick.
6. Be prepared for a pandemic
According to an annual survey conducted by Staples, over a fifth of office workers believe that workplace illness has the greatest potential impact on a business – almost as damaging as a natural disaster.
Pandemic vs. Seasonal Flu
According to the CDC, a seasonal flu happens annually and peaks between December and February. Pandemic flu, on the other hand, rarely happens. The most recent pandemics happened in 1918, 1957, 1968, and 2009. A pandemic can cause major impact on the general public, such as travel restrictions and school or business closings.
Have a pandemic preparedness checklist on hand in case a significant number of employees call in sick.
Consider offering a way for employees to work from home and/or change shifts.
According to OSHA, your pandemic flu plan should be based on a “worst-case” scenario – one in which the virus causes severe illness and death in larger numbers of people.