With the heart of the flu season just around the corner it is important to remember that we can do things to prevent becoming sick. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 5% – 20% of the population will come down with a cold or flu virus during a normal season resulting in 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths. Last year we saw the H1N1 flu virus make headlines when it reached pandemic (global outbreak of the flu) levels. This was the first time a pandemic had been declared by the world’s authorities in more than 40 years. According to the CDC, we expect to see the return of the H1N1 virus this season and possibly another virus as they are constantly changing.
So what can we do to prevent our employees from becoming sick? According to the CDC, frequent and careful hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent infection and remain healthy. Encourage employees to wash their hands frequently especially when in contact with the general public and after entering units and touching door knobs and handles. Many of the flu related germs can survive for several hours on the surfaces of door knobs and handles. Consider providing your employees with alcohol based hand sanitizers in their offices and portable units which clip the belts of your maintenance staff during the main part of the flu season. Employees are more likely to use them if they are convenient to access.
When it comes to washing our hands, believe it or not there is a right way to do it.
- Wet hands with clean running water (warm if available) and apply soap.
- Rub hands together to make lather and scrub all surfaces. Pay particular attention to fingers, fingertips and under fingernails where germs love to breed. Palms are heavy germ zones as well.
- Continue rubbing hands for 15 – 20 seconds – about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
- Rinse hands well under running water.
- Dry hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If drying hands with a paper towel, use it to turn off the faucet and open the door.
- If soap and clean water are not available, use an alcohol based hand sanitizer to clean your hands. These sanitizers significantly reduce the number of germs on the skin and are fast drying.
Despite even our best efforts at preventing the spread of the flu, an outbreak is always possible. The CDC estimates that a widespread outbreak of the H1N1 type flu would result in at least 30% absenteeism in our workplace. Therefore we should begin developing plans today to deal with that possibility. Start with:
- Identifying your critical operations that must continue irregardless of whether there is flu outbreak or not. This could include emergency maintenance services for example.
- Determine the minimum staffing levels you would need for those critical operations.
- Look to contracting out some of those services during this period of time, if possible. Keep in mind that your contractor may also be experiencing high levels of absenteeism.
- Allow employees to work from home if possible to prevent spreading germs.
- Limit large employee gatherings and parties during this time.
- Limit exposure in the workplace by asking employees who are not feeling well to stay home. Likewise, ask any employee who has traveled outside the US to an area identified by the CDC as a high outbreak area, to stay home for at least 5 days to ensure they are not contagious.