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Eight Steps to Reduce Workplace Flu Risk

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year 1 in 5 Americans will contract the flu in any given year. The flu can be a life threatening situation for some at risk populations, killing on average 23,000 people a year, however, most adults will recover after a few days of feeling miserable and go on with life.

We all know the pain that the flu can cause our bodies; symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, fever and congestion just to name a few, but what effect does the flu have on businesses and the overall economy each year. It turns out that the net effect of the flu on the U.S. economy totals a staggering $87 billion dollars in lost productivity and direct costs associated with medical treatment. In fact, 1 out of 10 lost days of work each year is attributed to the flu.

What this means for businesses is that a flu outbreak can impact a company’s bottom line by destroying employee productivity and morale. "The bad news is that there is no cure for flu yet and infection can happen almost anywhere," says Ryan Stark, president of Total Quality Cleaning Systems, an Arizona commercial cleaning company. "However," Stark continues, "a business can take a number of concrete steps to prevent workplace outbreaks these include attention to proper cleaning of surfaces and items in the office, usage of the right types of cleaning equipment and supplies as well as the right cleaning techniques."

These steps combined with office policies designed to stop spreading by infected persons will result not only in a happier and healthier workforce but benefits to the overall productivity of the organization. Here are eight steps a company can take to mitigate the effects of the flu this season.

1. Eliminate Hand-to-Face Contact Transmission.

Hand-to-face transmission is the number one way in which the flu is spread. So any prevention plan needs to primarily address this transmission route. Regular handwashing should be encouraged and areas in which food is produced or consumed should be quarantined from other areas. Simply being aware of the hand-to-mouth nature of transmission, will allow employees to regulate their own activity. For example, during an outbreak employees will refrain from handshakes and face-to-face conferences, opting for phone meetings. Businesses are advised to communicate with staff and stress the importance of keeping the items they use in their own work areas clean as well as implementing workplace rules that stop spreading of the flu.

2. Surface Cleaning and Disinfection

A routine disinfection of surfaces during any cleaning process is imperative to overall building health. Talk with your cleaning company about not only the products they use to clean your building but the techniques they use. If your cleaning company is only doing surface cleaning and not disinfecting countertops, walls, floors and equipment, then it’s time to find a new company.

3. Clean Desktops and Keyboards Regularly

Because of the nature of our modern computer centered offices, workers spend a great deal of their day touching their keyboard and mouse. This unfortunately results in most keyboards being dirtier than many bathroom toilet seats. So in addition to the encouragement of regular hand washing, employees should also be encouraged to regularly clean their hands after using their keyboards. They can do this easily if provided with alcohol-based hand sanitizer stations. Make sure you have a discussion with your cleaning company about whether they clean desktops, keyboards and mice. Many companies have a strict policy against cleaning desktops because of security reasons; however they are not cleaning the dirtiest part of the office.

4. Clean Office Cups, Dishes and Utensils

Offices can be unfriendly environments for eating and drinking, and generally it’s a good policy to restrict food consumption outside of workspaces so that the germ attracting surfaces don’t also receive food to help grow and spread bacteria and fungus. If that is not possible, providing your staff with a clean area in which to make sure their eating utensils are clean will go a long way in preventing the hand to face transmission that is the primary route for flu spreading. Make sure your cleaning area is well stocked with antibacterial soap, water and clean scrubbing brushes as well as disposable cups and dishes for visitors.

5. Clean Using Flat Mops

Flat mops contain microfiber material which is super absorbent. The microfibers are so tiny that they are able to remove dirt and containments from the small cracks and pores of a floor. Each fiber contains an electrostatic charge which locks in the dirt. It is important that your cleaning company uses flat mops in lieu of traditional cleaning mops as traditional mops leave residual dirt after use. A flat mop utilizing a no-dip disinfecting solution will result in your floors being disinfected and cleaned without cross contamination that bucket mops have.

6. Use EPA Registered Hospital-Grade Disinfection

Not all cleaning products are the same. Though they may perform the same function, it is important to be aware of the side effects of any cleaning product on the people cleaning, the people who live and work in your building and even the overall environment. The best way to address all 3 of these issues without sacrificing effectiveness is to use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered cleaning products. Ask your cleaning company if their products they use are EPA registered. If they aren’t EPA Registered, they may be leaving behind residual chemicals on surfaces and in the air. So your cleaning company may be eliminating some threats to health, yet introducing new threats.

7. Use Color Coded Microfiber Cloths

Make sure your cleaning company is using color coded microfibers to clean surfaces. Color coding helps prevent cross contamination so that your desk isn’t being cleaned with the same rag used to clean bathrooms. Talk with your cleaning company and ask them if they use color coding on their microfibers and if they don’t, ask why not. After all if they aren’t using this relatively inexpensive technique to clean your office, what other short cuts are they taking?

8. Enact and Enforce Stay At Home Policies

Sometimes employees need to be told to stay home when they are sick to prevent the spread of illness to others in the workplace. A company should have a flu outbreak policy to address a temporary disruption of personnel. Employees should have contingency plans for absence which allows others to perform in their absence. If possible telecommuting can be encouraged for both sick and non sick employees during outbreaks as well.

Taking a ‘big picture’ approach to flu outbreaks will result in some loss in productivity for your business, but in the long run you should be able to eliminate the devastating effects of an office wide break out of the flu.

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