How to Protect Yourself and Coworkers During Flu Season
With the height of flu season just around the corner, you can act now to protect yourself and others in the workplace.
- By Rupert Jones
- Nov 01, 2022
The pandemic could have led to a difficult 2021-2022 flu season if it weren’t for the COVID-19 protocols already in place. The upcoming flu season won’t include mask mandates and social distancing despite COVID-19’s high numbers, causing experts to worry about the flu’s rapid spread.
If there was ever a time to concentrate on reducing the spread of the flu, it’s now. Employers must read up on the proper use of disinfectants, make wearing masks more normalized and encourage sick workers to stay home. Otherwise, they’ll be understaffed for the entire season.
The Severe 2022-2023 Flu Season
In the U.S., health officials are already worried that this year’s flu season will be more severe than the last. A CNN article about flu season concerns interviewed members of local school districts. At the beginning of October, nearly 4000 students called in sick due to the flu.
That same article suggests that the rapid spread is due to the lack of COVID-19 restrictions and the data backs this up. From September 2020 to January 2021, only 1,316 positive flu cases were reported to the CDC. During the same period last year, almost 130,000 cases were reported.
It’s difficult to predict how many people will be infected with the flu this year, but it’s unusual to see a spike in cases in October. Typically, the flu season picks up in November or December.
At the same time, isolation comes with its caveats. Most people haven’t been exposed to the flu in a few years, meaning our immunity is lower. For this reason, you should consider getting a flu shot, especially if you have small children, are immunocompromised or are over the age of 60.
OSHA’s Recommendations for Flu Season
According to OSHA, the best way to reduce your risk of exposure to the flu at work is to use basic hygiene precautions and avoid close contact with sick people. What else should you do?
Get Vaccinated Right Away
Vaccinating against the flu is the best way to protect yourself. However, a lot of misinformation is preventing people from taking the flu shot, but the majority of Americans can get inoculated with no side effects. If you have questions or concerns about the shot, read this guide by the CDC.
Sign up for a Health Plan
The right health plan will help you access the resources you need to reduce the spread of the flu or improve your recovery time. When choosing a health insurance plan, make sure you evaluate your family's needs and get familiar with health insurance terminology, as it can be complex.
Stay at Home if You’re Sick
If you have the option to stay at home when you’re sick, you absolutely should. OSHA states that workers who have a fever and respiratory symptoms should stay home until 24 hours after their fever dies down. Even if you don’t have a fever, stay home if you have flu-like symptoms.
Cover Your Mouth When Coughing
It’s courteous to cover your mouth when you’re coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose, but it's easy to get out of that habit after prolonged bouts of isolation. Keep tissues by your desk or in your pocket and pull them out when necessary. Or cough on your hands and wash them.
Clean Your Hands Regularly
We touch hundreds of things that could make us sick. While you shouldn’t be afraid of germs (many are helpful for our immune system), washing your hands regularly can prevent the spread of disease. Make sure you always wash your hands properly before eating or drinking.
Wash Your Hands Properly
There’s a right way and a wrong way to wash your hands. According to CDC guidelines, you should wash your hands with clean, running water and alcohol-based soap for 20 seconds. If you can’t wash your hands at a sink, carry around hand sanitizer and apply it accordingly.
Don’t Touch Your Face
It’s common for people to touch their nose, mouth, eyes, cheeks, neck and hair. You may do this when you’re nervous or as a soothing mechanism, which makes the habit difficult to stop. If you’re able to become more aware of this habit, you’ll be able to take small steps to break it.
Use Your Own Stationery
Avoid using other people’s stationery, phones, desks, computers or other work tools without sanitizing them first. The flu virus can survive on hard surfaces for 24 to 48 hours and on soft surfaces for eight to 12 hours. If you’re a janitor, don’t touch anything without protective gloves.
Don’t Shake Anyone's Hands
In the U.S., shaking another person's hand as a greeting is common. So common, in fact, that you may offend someone if you refuse to do it. For this reason, ask your employer to put a “no handshake” order in place so anyone can refuse to accept one if they think they’re sick.
Eat Healthy and Exercise
Prevention is the best way to protect yourself from getting sick, and a strong immune system is a key factor in preventing or reducing the severity of illnesses. If you eat a healthy diet, get lots of rest and exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, you’re less likely to get influenza A or B.
Talk to a Healthcare Professional
Some people are in a high-risk category for seasonal flu and they may not even know it. Speak to your doctor if you need to be more careful this flu season. Some high-risk groups include people with asthma, pregnant women, small children or people with children and the elderly.
Attend a Health and Safety Seminar
If your employer offers a health and safety seminar, consider attending it. A health and safety officer can give you some helpful advice on how to keep you and your coworkers safe from the flu. If your employer doesn’t offer a seminar, join an open meeting either online or in person.
The 2022-2023 flu season is going to be brutal, and you need to keep yourself safe in case influenza spreads in your workplace. Fortunately, OSHA recommendations present a clear guide for how to avoid catching the flu and what to do if you’re feeling under the weather.