While much of the focus over recent months has been on COVID-19 and the vaccination roll-out, it is important to remember that the flu season is again drawing near. In this article, we outline some simple steps employers can take to help prevent the “flu epidemic” from spreading within the workplace - many of which are likely to already be in place as part of the organisation’s COVID Management strategies.
The difference between common colds and the flu
The Healthdirect website provides the following summary of the differences between “colds” and “flu”:
“Colds are very common… adults may get 2-4 colds each year. Colds affect the nose, the throat and upper airways and common symptoms include coughing, fever, sore throat, sneezing, blocked or runny nose and general congestion. They are caused by about 200 different viruses and there is no vaccine for a cold”.
“The flu is a viral infection affecting your nose, throat and sometimes your lungs. Typical symptoms of flu include fever, sore throat and muscle aches. Its symptoms tend to be more severe and last longer than those of a cold. The flu can also lead to complications, such as pneumonia, which can sometimes lead to death”.
Precautions at the workplace
Some practical steps that employers can take in order to minimize the potential threat of flu at the workplace are outlined below:
- Ensure handwashing facilities are readily accessible to all employees and regularly maintained.
- Encourage all employees to adopt the habit of washing their hands regularly and provide hand sanitisers.
- Avoid using shared towels and ensure disposable ones are placed in bins that are emptied regularly.
- Regularly clean all keyboards, phones, door handles, stair railings, lift buttons, photocopiers, printers, and anything else at the workplace that many employees have to touch.
- Where items are typically used by only one employee (eg keyboards and phones), encourage the employee to clean them by providing them with cleaning equipment, such as disinfectant wipes.
- Ensure that “common” food utensils used at work (such as plates, cups, glasses/mugs, and cutlery) are thoroughly cleaned after each use.
- Ensure ventilation and air conditioning systems are regularly serviced and cleaned.
- Provide information and advice to employees about preventative steps they can take.
- Advise employees who display the symptoms of contagious flu at work to stay at home until their symptoms diminish.
- Encourage all employees to remain hydrated by drinking plenty of water
Employers can also consider providing flu vaccinations for their employees.
Prevention is Better than the Cure
While the flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19, vaccination against influenza remains important with individuals encouraged to get the vaccine every year. Although the vaccination is not guaranteed to prevent someone from catching the flu, it has been estimated that the vaccine can provide a protection rate of approximately 60 per cent.
Many employers now provide voluntary annual vaccinations for their employees as part of a health and well-being program. While some employees may be entitled to receive free vaccinations from their medical provider (such as those aged over 65, pregnant women or those with diseases such as heart or lung diseases), for other employees, the cost is usually approximately $25 per vaccination.
While this may be seen as an extra expense, you may find that the cost savings from having reduced absenteeism during flu season will offset the cost of having to provide the vaccinations.
Even if an employee pays for their own vaccination, an employer can encourage and assist them with this by:
- Arranging with a health care provider to attend the workplace to provide the service.
- Partnering with a local pharmacy or health care provider to obtain the service off site.
- Providing flexibility with time off to obtain the vaccine from their medical provider.
Employees who are intending to get the COVID-19 vaccination should consult with their doctor regarding how the COVID-19 and Flu vaccinations will interact, and whether there any precautions that need to be taken into consideration.
Government-funded flu vaccines are expected to be available from April this year. If you are interested in finding out more about the types of vaccinations currently being provided, their costs and potential eligibility for free shots, further information is available from http://www.health.gov.au/
Information in HR Advice Online guides and blog posts is meant purely for educational discussion of human resources issues. It contains only general information about human resources matters and due to factors such as government legislation changes, may not be up-to-date at the time of reading. It is not legal advice and should not be treated as such.