Plan ahead. The key to managing the flu in the workplace is preparation. Before problems start, you should have in place appropriate prevention and management strategies and policies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests three basic steps for handling the flu, whether it is the seasonal flu or the swine flu: vaccinate, stop the spread of germs, and treat the flu promptly and properly.
Vaccinate. The first line of defense against the flu is to vaccinate. Each year, the CDC identifies the three flu strains that are most likely to affect the general population and creates a vaccine against them. If workers are vaccinated, the flu has a hard time getting a foothold in the workplace, thus heading off troubles before they can begin. To be most effective, workers' families should also be vaccinated.
Stop germs. The next step in managing flu in the workplace is to control the spread of germs, and the first and foremost way to do this is with frequent and thorough hand washing. Simply washing your hands for 15-20 seconds kills most germs. In addition, employers can install hand sanitizer dispensers in prominent places. Respirators also prevent the spread of the flu – surgical masks do not.
Treat the flu promptly and properly. If workers become infected with the flu, it is critical to control the infection so it has less chance of spreading. Review absentee policies to discourage sick employees from coming to work. The CDC suggests that those with flu symptoms talk with their doctor about antiviral medications and stay away from work for 24 hours after their fever is gone. Train supervisors to recognize the signs of the flu – fever (usually high), headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, muscle aches, sore throat, vomiting and, sometimes, diarrhea.
Educate employees. Communicating with employees about the flu reduces fears about a pandemic and demonstrates your dedication to maintaining a healthy work force. It also helps increase compliance with prevention strategies, further reducing the chance for a widespread problem.
For help preparing for a flu pandemic, call Services to Business at 573-331-5825.