H1N1: Keeping the Flu Bug at Bay in Your Workplace

An electron microscope image shows an H1N1 swine flu virus culture obtained from a California patient suffering from the current international outbreak. (U.S. Centers for Disease Control)

With the continuing exposure of H1N1, flu prevention and safety are forefront in the minds of business managers and owners. How do you prepare your employees without damaging your business’ bottom line? How do you deal with employees that get ill and cannot come into work? What happens if your business has to temporarily close?

All of these questions and more are important to consider. While H1N1 continues to spread, it is heartening to see that people are taking preparedness seriously. A recent American Red Cross poll found that more Americans are planning on taking extra measures to avoid getting the flu this year. In fact, 78 percent plan on covering their coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and 76 percent plan on washing their hands more carefully to prevent illness.

While it’s not clear yet how widespread or severe the H1N1 and seasonal flu viruses will be this year, there’s no question that now is the time to prepare. Utilize the resources of your local American Red Cross chapter, as well as other health and government organizations. Preparing your workplace for the flu can be a big task, but it doesn’t have to impact your business adversely when it’s handled using these basic principles and tips.

Avoid the use of open hands or closed fists to cover a cough. It spreads germs through the air and makes it easy to transfer the germs to other surfaces through touching.

Cough or sneeze into the fold of your arm, trapping germs within the easily washable fabric of your clothes.

-¢ Encourage employees in simple prevention practices. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Disposal of these items can be handled as normal, when working with your janitorial staff. Be sure that high traffic surfaces, such as doorknobs, drinking fountains and reception desks, get cleaned frequently with disinfectants, such as an antibacterial spray or using soap and warm water.

-¢ Promote proper hand-washing procedures, which include washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. The Red Cross and other organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer posters to place up in public restrooms to encourage proper hand-washing procedures.

-¢ Provide hand sanitizer for employees at their desks or offices, as well as in public areas, such as a reception desk or lobby. This small investment can make a big difference, both in prevention as well as in helping to allay the fears of employees, clients and customers.

-¢ Encourage employees to stay home when they feel sick. Remind hesitant employees who worry about missing a day that sick time is there for a reason. If a lack of sick time presents a problem, remember that one sick employee is exposing not only all their co-workers and their families to the virus, but also all clients and customers each person may come in contact with. A person can be contagious beginning 24 hours before symptoms appear, so if symptoms do start surfacing, encourage employees to stay home. Offer the option to work from home if possible.

-¢ Have a plan in place in case of a temporary office shutdown. For more information on forming an emergency plan, as well as other flu prevention measures and resources, please contact your local Red Cross about our workplace pandemic flu seminars.

Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.

Your local Red Cross has many resources for businesses to stay safe. Visit http://www.redcross.org/ to see tips for flu preparedness or to find your local American Red Cross Chapter. The Red Cross also offers workplace seminars on First Aid, CPR/AED, Emergency Response, Prevention, Injury Control and more.

Tomme Maier is director of Preparedness and Prevention Education for the American Red Cross of Greater Grand Rapids. Contact her at [email protected].

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Richard Blanchard
Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.