2014-2015 Flu Season

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that as of late December 2014, all national key flu indicators are elevated and about half of the country is experiencing high flu activity. Flu activity is expected to continue into the coming weeks. There are early indications that this flu season may be severe, especially for people aged 65 and older and young children.

Maintaining a Healthy Workplace

All employers should implement a combination of controls to protect workers and reduce the transmission of the seasonal flu virus in the workplace. Workplace controls include:

  • promoting vaccination
  • encouraging sick workers to stay home
  • promoting hand hygiene and cough etiquette
  • keeping the workplace clean

Pandemic flu remains a concern for all employers. A pandemic can occur at any time and can be mild, moderate, or severe. The pandemic in 2009 was considered by HHS/CDC to be mild but it still created challenges for employers and showed that many workplaces were not prepared. Your pandemic flu plan should be based on a "worst-case" scenario – one in which the virus causes severe illness and death in larger numbers of people. Planning for the worst-case ensures that you will have the right type of equipment and an adequate supply of it on hand to protect workers. It also ensures that you have planned for additional control options so that you can pick the right combination for the specific pandemic flu virus. For additional information on pandemic flu planning, see OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic and the business planning resources on Flu.gov. Also, please download a copy of RCAB's Pandemic Planning Guide.

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Encourage Workers to Get Vaccinated

Encourage workers to get the seasonal flu vaccine when it is available. Consider hosting a flu vaccination clinic in your workplace. For additional information about seasonal flu vaccine priorities, see Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine.

Encourage Sick Workers to Stay Home

Encourage sick workers to stay home. The HHS/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. Discuss other human resource policies with staff, including administrative leave transfer between employees, pay policy for sick leave, childcare options, and what to do when ill during travel.

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 workers. 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.

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 these items are located.

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 HHS/CDC.
  • Provide disinfectants and disposable towels for workers to use to clean their work spaces 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
  • any required work practices

HHS/CDC has identified groups that have a higher risk for complications from seasonal flu (e.g., pregnant women, 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.

Resources

Cleaning and Disinfecting Guidelines

Cold Versus Flu Comparisons