You hear it from over in the next cubicle; Bob has sneezed for the fifth time. Then Nora from sales stands over your desk with a file you needed and her nose is red and she looks tired. You recoil, carefully take the file and reach for the hand sanitizer. You hear the coughs, sneezes and groans all around you and you start to feel like you are at the beginning of the setup of a zombie movie.
There’s no way around it, flu season is still in full throttle and it can be challenging to beat the odds and stay healthy this time of year. Work, like school and kids, is an environment where the equation of people plus close quarters added to many communal surfaces multiplied by less than ideal sick etiquette can equal sick coworkers and heavy absenteeism.
As an employee who wants to stay healthy or an employer who wants to minimize absenteeism, what steps can you take to insure a healthy work environment and limit the exposure to flu and other infections and viruses this time of year.
1. A Comprehensive Cleaning Program That Puts Health & Safety First
The type of cleaning program you have will help determine how successful you are in limiting exposure to the flu and colds. You see, a healthy work environment is not an accident or an after thought. A healthy work environment is something that is only obtained when your janitorial contractor puts policy and training into place that insures that your custodial staff knows how to clean to reduce bacterial, viral and other common infectious diseases.
2. Clean Germ Spreading "Touch Points”
To maximize a healthy work environment, public “touch points” like light switches, business machines, elevator buttons, stair rails, telephones, door handles and other surfaces that are frequently touched are disease-friendly petri dishes of bacteria and viruses. These areas should get regular attention from your professional janitorial service. Likewise, it is not a bad idea to regularly wipe down surfaces in your own work area.
3. A Knowledgeable, Professional Cleaning Services Company
It is great to have pathogen-fighting cleaners at hand but if used improperly, they are largely ineffective. A properly trained, professional janitorial company understands the concept of clean first, sanitize second and will be trained in best practices to maintain a healthy work environment and cut down of the spread of flus and colds. Likewise, they are more likely to use the right product for the right job and avoid products that are dangerous or ineffective.
4. Wash Your Hands Thoroughly & Frequently With Soap & Water
A healthy work environment is compromised by people failing to wash their hands regularly. Your hands are an ideal mass transport device for the viruses and bacteria that cause disease. Adequate hand washing cuts down on the spreading of many contagions. Viruses can live on your hands for up to five minutes and they can live on hard surfaces including your phone, computers, office machines and more for up to two days. It is recommended that you always wash your hands before eating and drinking; after using the bathroom, touching high-hand-contact surfaces, returning to your office or home, blowing your nose, assisting an ill person, and handling any chemicals.
5. Keep Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Handy
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are an effective way to maintain a healthy work environment. For those times when washing your hands may not be convenient, hand sanitizer is a good, portable way to combat disease-causing bacteria. Hand sanitizer, in order to be effective, needs to be at least 60 per cent alcohol. It is wise to not that while effective, alcohol-based sanitizers are not a substitute for soap and water hand washing, especially when hands are visibly dirty and after using the bathroom.
6. Do Not Use Your Hands When You Cough Or Sneeze
The old dictum to cover your mouth with your hands to cough and sneeze got it all wrong. The droplets that come out when we cough or sneeze are the perfect transport device to carry the flu virus to other people or surfaces and compromise a healthy work environment. If you accidently cough or sneeze in your hands, immediately wash them as they are great pathways to spreading disease. Likewise, if you are coughing or sneezing, you are possibly sick and contagious. What is the right “coughing etiquette?” To insure you have a healthy work environment, if you don’t have a tissue handy, you should cough into your upper sleeve, as you do not generally touch other surfaces with that area.
7. If You Are Sick, Stay Home
When you know you have the flu, the best thing you can do for your own health and the health of your colleagues is to stay home. Sure you may feel pressure to get the work done but productivity declines and absenteeism skyrockets when one sick person gets multiple coworkers sick.
8. Your Mother Was Right, Get Your Hands Out of Your Mouth
Viruses, bacteria and contagions generally enter the human body through the eyes, nose or mouth, and your fingers touch objects and surfaces that may be replete with disease-causing viruses and bacteria. During peak flu and cold season, it’s okay to opt out of hand shaking and other polite but germ spreading social conventions. For those times you feel you must, keep that hand sanitizer handy.
9. Consider Getting the Flu Shot
The flu shot assists your body in building the antibodies needed to protect you from the flu. When applied to healthy adults and children, the flu shot can prevent the flu nearly 90% of the time. Unlike most vaccinations, you must get a flu shot every year as strains of influenza year to year and the flu shot is designed to target the most prevalent flu strains of the season. Flu shots are safe for most people, effective and generally available free or at a very low cost. Ask your doctor if you might be a good candidate for a flu shot.
10. Take Good Care of Yourself
The best defense is a strong offense. Stay healthy and reduce your susceptibility to the flu and colds by eating right, getting enough sleep and staying well hydrated.
There is not just one thing that can keep you healthy during flu season unless your willing to lock yourself in a room, avoid all human contact and wait for summer. Reasonable precautionary measures like those listed are both easy and will insure a healthy work environment. With a little luck and a lot of prevention, you can stay safe this flu season.