Federal health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautioned that this year's flu outbreak is more severe than any other flu since 2009’s swine flu pandemic. Furthermore, CDC officials noted that this season’s flu intensity is still increasing with rising reported numbers of flu sufferers and flu hospitalizations. Not only is this season’s flu worse, CDC officials tell us there is no immediate end in site and many more weeks to come before we start to see a drop in cases. Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the CDC said, “hopefully we’re in the peak currently, since the data is a week behind, or that it peaks soon. Regardless, there is a lot of flu activity happening across the country and likely many more weeks to come.” From Michigan to Texas, health care providers and state officials are working hard to protect their patients and residents as well as diminish the negative impacts of a particularly rough flu season. So what can you as a Facility Manager do to reduce the spread of illness and the resulting losses in productivity and rises in absenteeism? As an employee who just wants to avoid getting the flu or an employer who wants to keep employees healthy and reduce absenteeism, what steps can you take to limit the impact of this year’s flu season on your facility, your people and your business?
1. Cleaning For Health Cannot Be An Afterthought
When it comes to flu season, especially an especially virulent one, Cleaning For Health cannot be an afterthought. What is Cleaning For Health? Cleaning for health isn’t just an industry buzzword, it is a directive with real outcomes for both office cleaning companies and the facilities they clean and care for. Cleaning for health utilizes industry best practices to effectively clean in a way that reduces the spread of disease causing germs. Furthermore, Cleaning For Health requires products and practices that safeguard the health of everyone involved: office cleaners, you and your staff and your customers. What kind of best practices fall under cleaning for health?
- Color-coding cleaning cloths to avoid unnecessary and dangerous cross contamination. Color-coding can help make sure a towel used to clean a toilet isn’t used again to wipe down your desk
- Correct labeling of cleaning products with specific use instructions to assure office cleaners knows exactly how each product is to be used.
- Office cleaners must be trained on the use of contact times and dwell times to insure disinfectant efficacy in reducing and eliminating bacterial and viral loads.
- Using widely accepted best practices like “touch point” cleaning for maximum impact where it is needed most.
- Regular office cleaning equipment maintenance to assure optimal operation and effectiveness.
A healthy work environment doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by intention. Keeping your workplace healthy and getting at least some protection from the flu requires that your office cleaning company put policy and training into place that insures that your office cleaning staff know how to clean to reduce bacteria, viruses and other common infectious diseases and limit the spread of disease in your facility.
2. Touch Points A Critical Part of Effective Cleaning & Disease Prevention
What are touch points? They are those most often touched surfaces in any office or facility. This can include phones, shared office equipment like computer mice, door and faucet handles, basically any surface that sees many hands and thus can be the repository for high loads of disease causing germs. To assure an overall healthy work place, public “touch points” like light switches, business machines, elevator buttons, stair rails, telephones, door handles and other surfaces that are frequently touched must get regular cleaning from your professional office cleaning services. Similarly, it can be useful to provide anti-bacterial wipes for employees to periodically wipe down work surfaces and such in between office cleaning.
3. Skip “Presenteeism,” When You Are Sick, Stay Home
While you might feel like a hero or feel the pressure to get your work done, presenteeism, coming into work ill, plunges productivity and just causes more absenteeism as one person can get an entire office sick. No one thinks you are tough or dedicated, they’re just going to give you the side eye for exposing them and their families to the flu. When you aren’t feeling your best, the best thing you can do is stay home, stay hydrated and get some rest. It is good for you and good for your coworkers.
4. Stop Coughing Or Sneezing Into Your Hands Already!
Has your mom ever told you to cover your mouth with your hands when you sneeze or cough? Well, you can call tell her she had it all wrong! Your hands are one of the worst places to sneeze and cough because they are what you use to touch everything else. The microscopic moisture that leaves your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze is teeming with germs and either left to spread out on their own or coated all over your hands, they will wreak havoc. So what should you do? First, if you are sneezing and coughing, the chances are you are ill and should go home. Even on your best behavior, viruses like the flu are just too good at getting around. Second, if you sneeze, ideally do it into a tissue and then wash your hands immediately. If you haven’t a tissue and you feel a sneeze or cough coming on, cough into the sleeve and corner of your arm. While it isn’t as protective as just being home, at least you do not use this area to touch or handle things making it less likely you will spread germs. And for goodness sake, stop putting your fingers in your mouth. Don’t eat with your fingers, don’t lick your fingers and don’t pick you’re your nose. Viruses, bacteria and other contagions typically enter the human body through the eyes, nose or mouth, and your fingers touch objects and surfaces that may be teeming with disease-causing germs. Similarly, it can be wise to opt out of hand shaking during peak flu and cold season. If you feel impolite declining, make sure you have that hand sanitizer handy.
5. Proper Hand Washing Techniques Save Lives
You would think washing your hands would be a kindergarten level skill but you might be surprised how many adults aren’t doing it or are doing it incorrectly. When people aren’t consistently washing their hands, especially during a virulent flu season, germs spread fast. Hands are like high-speed rail for viruses like influenza, an ideal mass transport device for the viruses and bacteria that cause disease to pass from one place and person to another. Proper hand washing cuts down on the spreading of many contagions. You should periodically wash hands during the day but 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 a sick person, and handling any chemicals. Don’t compromise your healthy workplace with less than effective hygiene practices.
6. Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Is An Effective Stop-Gap Measure
While not as effective as hand washing, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can contribute to a healthy work place. When hand washing may not be convenient or around counters with shared pens and more, hand sanitizer is a good, portable way to reduce the spread of germs. In order to be effective, hand sanitizer must contain at least 60% alcohol. While not a substitute for good old-fashioned hand washing, hand sanitizer can be a good tool in your arsenal against the flu.
7. It’s Not Too Late For a Flu Shot
It might seem late in the season if you haven’t already had a flu vaccination but there are weeks to go. The flu shot helps you build the antibodies you need to protect you from the flu. While the flu vaccine isn’t 100%, it has been shown in many seasons to be as much as 90% effective. 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. You must get a flu shot every season as strains of influenza change year to year. This season’s flu vaccination is targeted the most prevalent flu strains.