It happens around this time every year. The sore throats, runny noses and coughs that herald the start of the flu season.
Up to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the seasonal flu annually. More than 200,000 are hospitalized with flu-related complications, and 36,000 people in the country die from flu-related causes.
The uncertain severity and timing of seasonal flu activity means that schools, businesses and workplaces need to prepare for higher absenteeism rates, along with cases of presenteeism – when someone goes to work or school while sick, leading to productivity declines and the possibility of spreading illness to others.
Fortunately, there are several things facility managers and building services contractors can do to help prepare building occupants for the upcoming flu season. Education is the first step.
Stopping the Spread of Germs
Flu viruses spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Sometimes, people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. In fact, some germs can live for two hours or ore on surfaces like doorknobs, desks, and tables.
|Did you know…
-The average desk harbors 20,961 germs per square inch: 400 times more than the average toilet seat.
-You can reduce 77 percent of the bacteria on your hands just by drying them with paper towels.
-More germs are spread by shaking hands than by kissing.
-Following handshaking, successive transmission of virus from one person to another can happen 6 times.
Consider instituting a Healthy Workplace campaign, with letters to building occupants and posters in prominent locations detailing recommendations from health experts like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which advocates the following tips to help stop the spread of germs:
- Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. It’s best to cough or sneeze into a tissue, which should be thrown away after it is used, or into one’s sleeve. If you sneeze or cough into your hands, be sure to clean your hands afterward – every time you cough or sneeze.
- Clean your hands often. When possible, use soap and warm water and rub hands vigorously together for 15 to 20 seconds, scrubbing all surfaces of the hands to dislodge and remove germs. When soap and water aren’t available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. If using a gel, rub the gel into your hands until they are dry.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick (and for at least 24 hours after fever is gone) and check with a health care provider when needed. Keeping your distance from others may protect them from getting sick.
Educating building occupants about how to prevent the spread of flu is only one step. You’ll also need to make sure you have the right infection control tools for the job. That means stocking workstations and public areas with plenty of facial tissue. Anti-viral facial tissue is now available for this purpose. In addition, you should install wall-mounted or free-standing dispensers for alcohol gel hand sanitizers throughout your facility. It’s also important to make sure restrooms don’t run out of hand soap and paper towels, and that sufficient numbers of no-touch disposal receptacles are provided for used hand towels and used facial tissue.
When stockpiling items like hand soaps and cleaning supplies, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration recommends being aware of each product’s shelf life and storage conditions (e.g., avoid areas that are damp or have temperature extremes) and incorporating product rotation (e.g., consume oldest supplies first) into your stockpile management program.
According to the CDC, business and employers, in general, can play a key role in protecting employees’ health and safety, as well as limiting the negative impact of influenza outbreaks on the individual, the community, and the nation’s economy. Facility professionals should be on the front lines in the war against the flu and other germs in their facility. A combination of education and effective flu-prevention tools and practices will put facilities and their occupants in a good position to avoid the brunt of the flu this season.
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