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Five steps to prevent the flu speading in the workplace

It is always assumed that absenteeism is a big problem for workplaces - but in fact, “presenteeism” can be a bigger problem.  'Presenteeism' is the term given when a sick worker goes to work and risks infecting others. According to a new report, “presenteeism” is costing the economy $34 billion a year through lost productivity.

The flu is a common ailment which many employees will continue to go into work with. In its full-blown state, it’s a fairly horrendous virus to pick up. It can cause severe illness, including pneumonia and bronchitis, chest pains and, in some cases, can require hospitalisation.  It is also incredibly contagious, which means that the workplace is the perfect environment for its easy transmission.  The most common symptoms, which come on very quickly, include tiredness, high fever, chills, headache, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, poor appetite, and muscle aches. It spreads through coughing or sneezing, or by direct contact with the virus on hard surfaces or people’s hands.

It is part of an employer’s duty to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health and welfare of their workers.  Organising flu injections and ensuring employees understand their responsibilities described below are two steps they can take to reduce the spread of the flu virus in their workplace. 

Employees also have a responsibility to look after themselves and others in their workplace so they should stay home if they feel unwell.  Although most people recover from the flu quickly, some people such as young children, older people and people with certain health conditions can be seriously affected by the flu, which can sometimes even result in death.

There is a tendency to 'soldier on' and struggle in to work no matter how sick you are.  You should not go to work, attend public gatherings and avoid taking public transport if you are sick.  Avoid "presenteeism" - it costs businesses money through lost productivity, and you can infect your colleagues. 

There are five simple ways you can prevent the spread of flu to your colleagues and others.

1. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough

The flu virus can travel through the air when a person coughs or sneezes. When you cough or sneeze you should turn away from other people and, where possible, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve.  Remember to wash your hands as soon as possible afterwards and where possible, use disposable tissues rather than a handkerchief, which could store the virus. Always put the used tissue into the nearest bin, rather than a pocket or handbag.

2. Wash your hands

Washing your hands regularly even when they aren’t visibly dirty is the single most effective way of killing the flu virus. Alcohol based hand products are an alternative to soap and water. 

Always wash your hands:

  • after you’ve been to the toilet
  • after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose
  • after being in contact with someone who has the flu
  • before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • before preparing food and eating

3. Don’t share personal items

The flu virus can spread when someone touches an object with the virus on it and then touches their face.  If a member of your household has the flu keep their personal items, such as towels, bedding and toothbrushes separate, and do not share eating and drinking utensils, food or drinks.

4. Clean surfaces

You should regularly clean surfaces such as tables, benches and fridge doors with soap and water or detergent because the flu virus can live on surfaces for a number of hours.

5. Avoid close contact with others

Keeping your distance from others (at least one metre apart) when you are feeling unwell will help reduce the chances of spreading the flu to other people. 

Click on the link below to download a "Stop the Spread" brochure to display in your workplace.

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