Reducing Influenza in the Work Place

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By the end of 14 January 2018, there were 198 new admissions to ICU/HDU with confirmed influenza with GP consultations for influenza-like illnesses increased further with the highest rates in the 45-64 years age group

We’re talking flu, not a cough or a cold but influenza, and even if you are healthy it can leave you aching and sweating and bed ridden for over a week.  In older people, younger children and people with underlying health problems, complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia can be severe and in some cases fatal.  

You can catch it from a surface where the virus has been deposited or from a sneeze or a cough that can spread germs up to 6 feet away and survive in the air for several hours! 

Worse still, 70% of people show no symptoms until after it has spread, meaning it can unwittingly spread through our family, community or workplace, leaving weaker or more vulnerable people at risk.  Figures show that it hits about 20% of the population and it mutates into a different strain every year, so we can never get immunity from it no matter how fit and healthy we are, or how many times we’ve had it before. 

In the workplace, employers have a duty of care to their employees and health and wellbeing are of ever-increasing importance. Running a promotion programme to reduce the impact of influenza including a vaccination program for employees ticks a lot of boxes and goes a long way to demonstrate that the business has their best interests at heart.

It’s not just about the bottom line, for which flu shows no regard, but about engaging employees and protecting the wider society too (over the last few years the flu vaccines have not provided good protection for the over 65’s, highlighting a greater importance than ever to vaccinate other age groups to reduce risk for the elderly).

Even if you haven’t had an opportunity to have an influenza vaccine this year, there are other means by which you can reduce the risk of flu spreading in the workplace.  Here are our top tips for a flu safe workplace!

  • Teach staff good hygiene practices including ‘cough etiquette’ and hand washing techniques
  • Keep the workplace clean
  • Encourage staff NOT to come into work if they are feeling unwell
  • Monitor and assess any sick leave throughout the year so you can plan and strategise well ahead

If your business has been hit hard with influenza this year, you may wish to work with an occupational health professional such as Cordell Health, to discuss your businesses needs and plan a vaccination program as soon as the newest one is available for 2018.

Of course, there is no obligation for employees to take you up on the offer, even if you provide it, nor can it provide 100% protection.  But in large workforces of 500+ people, which show the highest rates of illness,  the likelihood of an epidemic spreading quickly is increased and the cost to the business significantly more dramatic.

With this in mind, is it a cost that businesses can afford NOT to budget? Every year, sick leave costs business an average of approximately £554 per person, and with coughs and colds accounting for nearly a quarter of that, one is left wondering how much could have been prevented.

Nikki Cordell, Managing Director and Consultant Occupational Physician at Cordell Health, advises that ‘‘the more measuring and monitoring of sickness absence that is done throughout the year, the better equipped you are to implement strategies to reduce absence levels and inform an evidence-based health promotion programme.  For many businesses, this will include planning ahead to run a flu vaccination program in October / November before the inevitable flu epidemic of the next winter season hits.’

How has your workplace been affected by the flu this year? Have other employees had to share the workload when people have been off sick or have you been lucky enough to be part of a vaccination program that has had a beneficial effect?

For further information please see the link to Flu and flu vaccines: Expert Interview