Reducing Workers' Exposure to Seasonal Flu Virus

Influenza (flu) is a contagious disease that can be serious. Every year, millions of people get sick, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and some even die from the flu.  Employers can implement a combination of controls to protect their employees and reduce transmission of the seasonal flu in the workplace.  Here are some basic precautions that can protect your employees during the flu season.   

Encourage Workers to Get Vaccinated
Encourage employees to get the seasonal flu vaccine when it is available. An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to reduce the risk of getting sick with the seasonal flu and spreading it to others.  Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently.  

Encourage Sick Workers to Stay Home
The CDC recommends that workers who have a fever and respiratory symptoms stay at home until 24 hours after their fever ends (100 degrees Fahrenheit [37.8 degrees Celsius] or lower), without the use of medication. Not everyone who has the flu will have a fever. Other symptoms could include a runny nose, body aches, headache, tiredness, diarrhea, or vomiting. Develop flexible leave policies that encourage workers to stay home, without penalty, if they are sick.  

Develop a Policy for Workers, and Clients Who Become Ill in the Workplace
Develop a policy on how to deal with workers and clients who may be ill with the flu and communicate it to your employees. Determine who will be responsible for assisting ill individuals in the workplace and make sure that at least one person can serve as the "go to" person if someone becomes sick in the workplace.  Also, consider how to separate ill workers from others, or give them a surgical mask to wear, if possible and if they can tolerate it until they can go home.

Promote Hand Hygiene and Cough Etiquette
Post signs that tell workers, visitors, and clients the steps for proper hand hygiene and cough etiquette.  Workers, visitors, and clients should have easy access to supplies such as:

  • "No touch" wastebaskets for used tissues;
  • Soap and water;
  • Alcohol-based hand rubs;
  • Disposable towels;
  • Cleaning and sanitation materials.

Lobbies, halls, and restrooms should have the above items and workers should know where they are.

Keep the Workplace Clean
Frequently clean all commonly touched work surfaces, work areas, and equipment (e.g., telephones, doorknobs, lunch areas, countertops, copiers, etc.).  Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label. No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended by the CDC.  Provide disinfectants and disposable towels for workers to use to clean their workspaces and surfaces and to keep work areas clean.

Educate Workers About the Flu and Conditions That Place them at Higher Risk for Flu Complications 
Train workers about how flu can be transmitted in the workplace and what precautions they can use to prevent transmission. Provide information about the following:

  • signs, symptoms, and complications of the flu;
  • policies and procedures for reporting flu symptoms, using sick leave, and returning to work;
  • vaccination; and
  • any required work practices.

CDC has identified groups that have a higher risk for complications from seasonal flu (e.g., elderly, pregnant women, small children, persons with asthma, etc.).

Inform workers that some people are at higher risk of complications from flu and suggest that they talk to their doctor about their own risk and what to do if they become ill.

Address Travel and Sickness While on Travel
Reconsider business travel to areas with high illness rates.  The CDC recommends the following measures for workers who become ill while on travel:

  • Advise workers who become ill while traveling or on temporary assignment to notify their supervisors.
  • Workers who become ill while traveling and are at increased risk of flu complications and others concerned about their illness should promptly call a healthcare provider.
  • Advise workers to check themselves for fever and any other signs of flu-like illness before starting travel and to notify their supervisors and stay home if they feel ill.