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Flu Prevention in the Workplace: What Employers Should Know

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The flu season in Canada, typically, begins in November and lasts until March. It peaks between the winter months of December and February.

Health and safety precautions are always essential for flu prevention in the workplace. This flu season extra caution is advised. COVID-19 is still around, and virus transmission is expected to increase during the colder months.

Ontario recently issued general health and safety guidance that applies to not just COVID-19 but the influenza virus as well.

What is the provincial guidance on COVID-19 and flu prevention?

According to Dr Kieran Moore, the Ontario medical officer of health, people should:

  • Stay home until symptoms of any respiratory illness have improved for at least 24 hours
  • Staying home is advised if you have fever until it is completely gone (without the use of fever-reducing medicines)
  • In case of gastrointestinal symptoms, stay home until symptoms have improved for at least 48 hours
  • After isolating at home, wear a mask in public for 10 days since the onset of symptoms
  • If you are unwell, avoid non-essential visits to vulnerable or older people for a full 10 days starting the day after your experience symptoms
  • If you live with someone who is sick or tested positive for COVID-19, mask in public spaces and avoid vulnerable individuals and settings for 10 days after exposure. Isolate at once if you experience symptoms.

How to tell if it is COVID-19 or the Flu?

Flu, or influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by an influenza A or B virus. COVID-19 is also a highly infectious respiratory illness caused by a new strain of the coronavirus not previously identified in humans.

Both illnesses have several symptoms in common, such as fever, cough, chills, fatigue, sore throat, muscle pain and body aches. COVID-19 may also cause loss of taste and smell. Both are transmitted through respiratory droplets produced while coughing or sneezing and/or through contaminated surfaces.

Though most people recover from the flu within a week or two, like COVID-19, it can cause life-threatening complications in those with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems.

Due to the similarity of symptoms, it is difficult to tell the two illnesses apart without testing. Fortunately, like COVID-19, there is a vaccine available for flu as well.

What steps should I take for flu prevention in the workplace?

The safety measures to prevent spread of both viruses are the same: social distancing, hand hygiene, getting vaccinated, and staying home when sick.

Here are some tips on COVID-19 and flu prevention in the workplace:

Advise your employees to get the flu vaccine

Encourage your staff to get vaccinated against influenza. You could offer your employees time off to go get vaccinated or set up a flu vaccine clinic at your workplace. A flu shot takes two weeks to take effect and should be taken as soon as possible.

Though the flu shot may not be a 100% effective, it will help make the flu symptoms less severe in case one gets sick. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization advises (NACI) that everybody 6 months of age and older without contraindications should get the flu shot every year.

Review sick leave policies

Advise your staff to use their sick leave and stay at home in case they experience flu-like symptoms. You may want to offer extra sick leave to your employees or allow them to combine it with vacation leave to be able to get enough rest and recover fully before returning to work.

Encourage employees to self-monitor

COVID-19, the flu and common cold have several symptoms in common and it is impossible to tell them apart without testing. Educate your staff about the similarities between flu and COVID-19, how-to self-monitor, and the precautions they should follow.

Provide information about individuals who may be at high risk for serious flu complication, such as those with medical conditions like heart disease or diabetes, and pregnant women.

Address any misinformation or hesitancy with facts from credible Public Health sources. If your employees experience any flu or COVID-19 like symptoms, they should stay home.

Continue following health and safety measures

Clean and disinfect common areas in the office, such as washrooms, kitchen, cafeteria, lobby, and high-touch surfaces, such as the sign-in kiosk, light switches, door handles, shared equipment, faucets, etc. You may want to continue following infectious disease prevention measures such as physical distancing and hand hygiene. As long as it is reasonable in the circumstances, you could require employees to:

  • Wear masks at work, especially if they are in a public-facing role
  • Be vaccinated against COVID-19 in accordance with your company’s COVID-19 vaccine policy
  • Participate in COVID-19 testing at the workplace
  • Undergo passive and/or active screening before entering the workplace

Have a response protocol ready for positive cases

If a worker experiences flu-like symptoms while in the office, they should know that they must immediately isolate and go home. Have a response protocol ready in case an employee at work experiences flu or COVID-19 symptoms.

Offer flexible work options

If the nature of your business allows for it, let your employees work from home if they need to look after family members or children who are sick from flu or COVID-19.

Do you need help developing HR and health & safety policies for your workplace?

Whether it is policy on flu prevention in the workplace or flexible working, we’ve got you covered. Peninsula’s experts can help you create company policies as well as with any other HR, health and safety or employment advice you may need. To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call an expert today: 1 (833) 247-3652.