How to make sure winter bugs don’t break your team

Winter is coming! So how do you stay healthy?

Once again, it’s that time of year when coughing and sneezing are heard throughout the office and everyone has a tissue box nearby. It’s also bad for business, with germs spread by sick employees estimated in 2016 to cost the Australian economy more than $34 billion a year.

The Australian flu season typically runs from April to October. Easily spread indoors, cold and flu viruses can pass directly from person to person, or through contact with contaminated surfaces. And it’s not just the elderly at risk – deaths have been reported in children and healthy adults.

An effective line of defence is ensuring that your employees get their annual flu vaccination. But you shouldn’t put all your faith in that strategy, as it tends to wear off after three to four months, and flu strains can adapt and change over time.

Hygiene equals wellness

There are many things you can do to prevent cold and flu viruses from taking hold in the workplace. Maintaining a clean, hygienic work environment is the best way to prevent harmful viruses and bacteria from spreading.

Here are five essential ways to encourage hygiene and wellness at work to fight winter illness.

1.   Wash hands frequently: Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But many diseases can be spread by contaminated hands, from viruses like influenza to gastrointestinal infections such as Salmonella. Anti-bacterial liquid soap is effective against a wide range of germs and bacteria, so make sure it’s always available within close reach.

2.  Keep surfaces clean: If you serve or prepare food, clean surfaces are essential. But any type of workplace will benefit from having a hygienic environment – especially when you consider the shocking statistics about the amount of bacteria that can accumulate on everyday items such as tap handles and shopping trolleys. Commonly shared objects such as phones, keyboards, door handles and door knobs should be wiped down regularly using alcohol wipes or other sanitiser-grade wipes.

3.  Break bad habits: Educate your employees about often-overlooked but harmful habits that can cause illness to spread, such as:

*  Not putting disposable tissues in the bin immediately after using them, e.g. leaving them on exposed surfaces or stowed inside pockets.

*  Not showering after gym exercise and other physical activity.

*  Letting personal items become germ traps. For example, teabags left sitting in cups for weeks can become hotbeds of bacteria, and water bottles should be washed out daily.

4.  Quarantine: As an employer, you have the right to ask an employee to go home if they are clearly unwell. This will help them recover more quickly and reduce the chance of cross-contamination to other staff.

5.  Promote wellness: It’s been proven that chronic stress weakens the immune system and can trigger illnesses such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. Make sure employees take their annual leave, especially if they’ve been putting in a lot of overtime. Also consider introducing some workplace happiness programs. Just 10 to 15 minutes of meditation three or four times weekly can significantly reduce stress, and the deep breathing exercises of yoga can help to reduce inflammation and boost resistance to infection.

Keeping the workplace clean and hygienic is a shared responsibility. It’s good for employees’ health, the bottom line and your public image – not just during flu season, but throughout the year.

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Winter is coming! So how do you stay healthy?

22nd May 2018
Tania Dalton, Research & Innovation, Initial Hygiene
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