Prepare Your Workforce for Cold and Flu Season

Prepare Your Workforce for Cold and Flu Season

With every news program, newspaper and news website full of stories about Ebola, it’s easy to forget that flu season is nearly upon us. Unfortunately, this illness, which is contracted when influenza viruses infect the nose, throat and lungs, can cause severe symptoms and even life-threatening complications in many people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population catches the flu each year.

Annually, the flu leads to more than 200,000 hospitalizations, 111 million lost workdays, and $7 billion in revenue losses due to sick days and lost productivity. Keep your workforce safe—and your company’s productivity up—throughout flu season with these tips to help prevent cold and flu.

Educate Your Employees

It may seem like common sense, but not all workers recognize flu symptoms or understand how the virus spreads. You may want to send a company-wide email reminding them to monitor their health if they begin to exhibit any of the following:

  • Fever and/or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Sinus congestion or runny nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

Experts advise that not everyone with the flu will have a fever, so this symptom is not the best indication that one has the illness. Additionally, someone with the flu may be able to pass the illness on beginning one day before their symptoms develop to seven days after they become sick. The virus generally spreads through the airborne droplets released when someone with the flu coughs or sneezes. These droplets may land on the mucous membranes (eyes, nose and mouth) of nearby people, thereby transferring the virus.

Encourage Flu Vaccinations

According to the CDC, the very best way to prevent catching the flu is to get a flu vaccine every flu season. Encourage your staff to do so—perhaps by allowing them to visit a nearby vaccination clinic (often held at drug and grocery store pharmacies) on the clock, or by arranging for a medical professional to visit your office and administer vaccines.

The CDC recommends seasonal flu vaccines for everyone six months of age and older. Vaccination is particularly important for individuals who are at high risk for influenza-related complications. This includes adults 65 years of age and older, pregnant women, individuals with asthma or heart disease, and the morbidly obese.

Keep Your Office Clean

Droplets containing the flu virus can also land on nearby surfaces. Should someone touch those surfaces and transfer the droplets to their eyes, nose and mouth by way of their hands, they can contract the virus. Encourage your staff to wash their hands frequently as well as keep their workspace clean. Daily disinfecting of phones, computer keyboards, desk surfaces, break room and bathroom sink faucet handles, microwave door handles and refrigerator door handles is advised.

Create a Contingency Plan

Most people who contract seasonal flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks. However, because the illness passes quite easily from person to person, the CDC recommends that individuals who have the flu stay home from work during the period in which they are contagious. This means you may find yourself without key employees at some point during the winter flu season (running from October to May, peaking between December and February). A contingency plan—including cross training multiple workers in vital functions—can help you maintain normal business operations.

Do You Conduct Regular Workplace Fire Drills?

Do You Conduct Regular Workplace Fire Drills?

Do you remember your elementary school years? How about the suspense you felt every time your school had a fire drill—as you lined up single file and marched slowly from the building to your group’s designated meeting spot. During good weather, a fire drill could be fun. During bad weather, they were a little less pleasant. But they served a purpose either way: to teach you to respond quickly, calmly and safely in the event of a building fire. Fire drills can serve the same purpose for your workforce today.

Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not require employers to conduct fire drills in the workplace, it strongly recommends them. As they state in one document, “It is a good idea to hold practice drills as often as necessary to keep employees prepared.” Your business insurance carrier may have stronger feelings about drills. Some require clients to hold period drills to ensure the safe evacuations of employees. Drills may also be necessary to satisfy local fire codes.

Why Should I Conduct Fire Drills?

When you give your employees the opportunity to practice emergency procedures in a simulated—but safe—environment, you reduce their risk of harm in an actual life-threatening situation. Written evacuation procedures included in your workplace safety plan are not enough. Unless you physically run through them, you cannot evaluate their effectiveness and make changes to improve them. Also, there’s the previously mentioned issue of insurance and local fire codes. If you’re on the fence about conducting workplace fire drills, take a moment to call your insurance agent and the fire marshal to confirm the legal necessity.

How Often Should We Drill?

Your insurance policy or local fire codes may dictate the frequency of your fire drills. However, if they do not, consider the number of fire hazards in your workplace. If your office houses flammable materials or is located within a building that is difficult to exit (such as a high rise), you may want to conduct quarterly drills. If there are few fire hazards at your location, twice-yearly drills may be adequate.

Is a Surprise or Planned Drill Better?

While scheduled/planned fire drills minimize workflow disruption, surprise/unannounced drills are better for evaluating the emergency readiness of your workforce. If you’re just instituting evacuation procedures, or have recently made some changes, a planned drill will give you the chance to take your staff through the evacuation step by step. However, if you’re practicing established procedures, a surprise drill will give you the best indication of how your people will react in a real fire emergency.

Take the time to evaluate the results of every fire drill immediately after the event. Make note of issues such as employees who did not hear/respond to the alarm, equipment that wasn’t properly shut down, assigned evacuation routes that were not followed, unexpected corridor or stairwell obstructions, and employees requiring assistance. Look for ways to adjust your workplace procedures to account for or eliminate these issues.

If you’d like assistance incorporating regular workplace fire drills into your workplace safety plan, or determining if your insurance carrier or local fire codes require them, contact your workplace safety advisor.