The winter flu season is fast approaching. Influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious, respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. This upcoming flu season, it is likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both spread, adding to the ongoing challenges that we are already facing. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to do everything possible to reduce the spread of flu.
When it comes to the workplace, there are several things that employers and workers can do to help protect themselves and others against flu. Here are some tips to help you prevent the spread of flu in your workplace this winter.
- While flu and COVID-19 share many characteristics, one key difference is that there are vaccines to prevent flu. Encourage your employees to get a seasonal flu vaccine. Provide information so that your employees know where they can get a vaccine in their community and be particularly mindful of employees who may be at high risk of serious flu complications, such as pregnant women or those with a chronic medical condition.
- Flu vaccines will not prevent COVID-19, but they will reduce the burden of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths on the health care system and conserve medical resources for the care of people with COVID-19.
- Review your sick leave policies and remind staff that they must stay at home if they have flu-like symptoms, without fear of any reprisals.
- If a member of staff starts to feel ill while at work, they should be asked to go home immediately. Separate them from other workers and make arrangements for them to go home.
- Most people with flu have mild symptoms and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If an employee gets sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, they should stay home, rest and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. If, however, they have symptoms of flu and are in a high risk group, or are very sick or worried about their illness, they should contact their health care provider for advice. The stay at home guidance for those suspected of having COVID-19 is different and health care providers will provide direction, according to the particular symptoms.
- Clean and disinfect all surfaces and objects regularly. Pay particular attention to any surfaces and objects that may have been contaminated with viruses that cause flu, especially after an employee notifies you that they feel unwell.
- Consider extending flexible work policies that allow workers to continue working remotely and other policies that allow workers to stay at home to care for sick family members or to care for children, should schools close.
- Provide resources and training within your workplace to promote preventative actions that will help to reduce the spread of flu. This may include providing tissues, foot operated garbage cans, sensor operated hand soap, disposable paper towels and hand sanitizer.
- Display information in your workplace to remind workers about flu and to encourage respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene. This includes educating workers about covering coughs and sneezes with tissues, thorough hand washing and regular use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. In addition, avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth.
- Take sensible precautions to help reduce the spread of flu, such as avoiding close contact with people who may be sick. If you are sick, limit contact with others to prevent infecting them.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, different regional health authorities may recommend additional precautions be taken within your particular community or workplace. Be sure to follow these instructions.
Here are some further resources about influenza, including leaflets and posters for your workplace:
- Facts about Influenza
- Protect Yourself and Others from Influenza Leaflet
- Protect Yourself and Others from Influenza Poster
- Cleaning Hands with an Alcohol Based Sanitizer Poster
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) Prevent the Spread Poster
- BC Centre for Disease Control Influenza Information
- WorkSafeBC Influenza Information
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) Flu and Infectious Disease Outbreaks Business Continuity Plan