Do you have a chorus of snifflers in your workplace already? Here are some top tips to help you avoid an outbreak of illness this flu season.
Taking a “sickie” is a part of the Australian workplace culture, and according to ABS statistics, Australian public service workers miss work for alleged illness on average about eight to nine days a year – 30 per cent higher than their UK counterparts. This costs the Australian economy about $32.5 billion annually in lost productivity over the course of flu season, according to Direct Health Solutions, absence management consultants.
While some of these sickies might be excuses to have a pyjama day, Professor Robert Booy, head of the clinical research team at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, says that from May to August many of these days off will be due to flu season: workers who are either suffering from it themselves, or caring for children or relatives who have come down with the illness.
Last year was a record year in Australia with more than 100,571 laboratory-confirmed cases, which resulted in an estimated 18,000 hospitalisations and at least 1,500 deaths.
Booy recommends that any worker suffering from “a streaming nose, fever or hacking cough” to stay home at least for the first 36 hours when they are most contagious and until their symptoms diminish.
Prevention is also better than treatment, and the influenza vaccine is recommended for ‘at risk groups’: everyone over 65 years old, those with chronic diseases, those who have a suppressed immune system, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander employees, and all pregnant women.
What individuals can do
While getting vaccinated this flu season is a personal choice, there are other ways to protect yourself and others.
- Face masks might not be as socially acceptable here as they are in Asia, but studies show they provide added protection when caring for someone with flu and also ensuring you don’t spread the virus when you go out in public.
- Hand washing before and after meals (which adds up to at least six times a day) with soap or hand sanitiser protects you from shared surfaces (keyboards, doorhandles, etc) where you might pick up the virus and transfer it to your mouth.
- Coughing and sneezing into the crook of your elbow is much better than sneezing into your hand. Also, use tissues – not cloth handkerchiefs – and throw them away immediately.
- Live healthily in flu season by getting regular exercise, a good night’s sleep and healthy food will make you less susceptible to illness.
- Drink a lot of water and minimise your alcohol intake. The hype around vitamins – and especially Vitamin C – claiming to protect you from colds and the flu has negligible clinical basis.
What workplaces can do
- Provide sufficient washing facilities and soap for hand washing.
- Ensure workplaces are adequately ventilated.
- Don’t use shared towels. Throw disposable tissues and paper towels in the bin and empty regularly.
- Ensure that cutlery, cups and plates are washed thoroughly or encourage staff to use their own.
- Provide cleaning equipment to clean keyboards, telephone, copier machines and door handles.
- Publicise information about self-protection and free flu jabs. The Health Direct Australia app has advice on prevention, symptoms and treatments.