The recent outbreak of Ebola has taught us that planning and communication play an important role in the most important facet of combating a deadly virus: immediate and robust response to an outbreak. While we are assured that the Centers for Disease Control has a plan to contain and limit any outbreak here, as have countries in West Africa effectively combated the disease, it leads us to ask a larger question regarding contagious illnesses: How do we as employers limit the effect of seasonal influenza (the flu) within our workforce?
Each flu season in America, between 5% and 20% of Americans contract the flu. This leads to 111 million lost productive work days, which costs American business approximately 7 billion dollars! Whether its in your accounting department or forklift fleet operators, you want to limit an outbreak at your company and contain any outbreak that does occur. The effects of lost productivity can have a great effect on your ability to deliver products and services and provide customer service, which can lead to a negative impact on your bottom line. But there are things you can do to lower the risk at the department level and facility level. It all starts with planning and communication.
1. Developing a plan to combat influenza? Businesses plan for all sorts of calamities and naturally occurring disasters. Does your company have a preparedness plan to prevent a flu outbreak? A tremendous amount of information is available to help you plan for and combat an outbreak of the flu at http://www.flu.gov/planning-preparedness/business/
2. Educate your employees and take steps to encourage vaccination. One study showed a decrease in over 71% in hospitalizations when a flu vaccination was administered to adults of all ages (source). Flu vaccines not only reduce the chances of contracting the flu, but it also reduces the effects of the flu if an employee contracts it, thus enabling them to get back to full productivity sooner.
3. Proper sanitary procedures are also essential during the flu season. Placing hand sanitizers throughout your facility and encouraging if not outright requiring their use will help contain the spread of the virus, should an employee become infected. There are additional steps you can take to prevent the spread of the flu, including increasing janitorial services or assigning teams to assist in the sanitization of routinely used and shared points, such as water fountains, door knobs/handles, bathrooms, and kitchens.
4. Send them home! If an employee starts to show the signs of influenza, its important to remove them from the facility as soon as possible and require that they remain home until symptoms have subsided, particularly a fever.
The effects of flu season can be dramatic if left unaddressed. But developing a plan to deal with the flu and spreading education before the flu spreads itself around your facility will help you maintain your business productivity during this flu season.
As a material handling company, our focus is always on productivity, and this is not always about equipment and processes. Sometimes peripheral components can have an impact on our bottom lines, and it is important to us to serve as your partner in addressing all facts of productivity. We encourage you to visit the flu.gov site to learn more.