No one likes the cold or flu — least of all employers. Here are some ways to help keep everyone healthy.

Combating Cold and Flu Season in the Workplace

Health & Safety Health

Cold and flu season troubles us every year; up your prevention with these tips and help lessen the risk in your workplace.

Did you know that between 5 percent and 20 percent of Americans catch the flu annually? According to WebMD, 70 million workdays are missed as a result, which costs employers between $3 billion and $12 billion per year. And those who brave the office while they’re sick can spread the flu virus anywhere from one day before the onset of any symptoms and up to seven days after the symptoms commence.

While it may seem difficult to combat cold and flu season, there are a few things you can do to help keep your staff healthy and your business running. Here’s what you should know about the flu.

Why is the Flu More Prevalent in the Winter?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months. The peak of the flu activity is between December and March with some cases reported as late as May. CDC data from 1982 through 2016 shows that the flu peaked in February for 14 of the seasons and in December for seven of the seasons followed by March and January, with six and five seasons respectively.

The most prevalent theory as to why the flu is most prevalent during winter is that the influenza virus flourishes in the colder, drier months of the year. Cooler temperatures lower the humidity in the air, facilitating the transmission of the flu from one person to another. The Weather Channel references a study performed by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development that found the flu virus forms an outer coating in colder weather that assists its conveyance through the air and eventually into another person from as far away as six feet. Conversely, wet, humid air pulls the virus to the ground during the summer months making it less likely to infect another person.

Minimizing the Effects of Cold and Flu Season

WebMD offers a cold and flu survival guide and the following tips for combating cold and flu season. Keep these considerations in mind when preparing your workplace:

  1. Encourage staff to call in when they’re sick. They should stay in the comfort of their home if they’re experiencing a fever, headache, nausea, vomiting or other flu-like symptoms. This is especially important since presenteeism is a huge problem during cold and flu season. Your employees may show up to work, but if they’re sick, they may not perform at 100 percent capacity for a myriad of reasons.
  2. Remind them to wash their hands often with warm water and soap, rubbing them together for 15–20 seconds. You may want to post reminders near hand-washing stations throughout your business. Where soap isn’t available, offer alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gels.
  3. Make sure desks and other common areas are cleaned or wiped down routinely. These include your telephones, microwave door and water fountain handles, desks and keyboards.

Minimize the effects of the cold and flu season by implementing workplace strategies early. You can not only help your company’s bottom line, but your employees will benefit from a better quality of life as well. The time to act is now as we, once again, enter that season of the year.

J.A. Rodriguez Jr.
J.A. Rodriguez Jr.

J.A. Rodriguez Jr., CSP, is the CEO of Make My Day Strategies LLC and a global Fortune 100 senior manager. Rodriguez was honored to be selected by EHS Today Magazine as one of "The 50 People Who Most Influenced environmental, health and safety in 2012-2013" and "2014 - 2015."