The schools have been back for a few weeks and most people have settled back into work routines after the Summer holidays or their post school hols sunshine break.
The temperature is dropping and the wet, rainy, autumn weather is cropping up more and more on the forecasts. We all know that this can mean an increase in sick leave.
The Office of National Statistics research shows that minor illness, such as colds and influenza (flu) were the primary cause of absenteeism in the UK last year. This equates to 34 million working days.
The NHS have issued stark warnings about this year’s flu season. Already this year hospitals are on alert following major flu outbreaks in Australia and New Zealand. The fear is that we will see similar levels in the UK.
There are several simple actions that businesses can take to minimise the spread of flu, and other minor illness, in the workplace. Doing so not only reduces absenteeism and improves productivity but it will also contribute to the health of the wider society in the process.
The NHS provide free annual flue jabs to people in the following ‘high risk’ groups.
- Those aged 65 or over
- Anyone who’s pregnant
- People suffering from medical conditions such as asthma, kidney disease, diabetes etc.
- Those living in a residential or nursing home
- Main carers of elderly or disabled people who may be at risk if you fall ill
- Children in an at-risk group aged 6 months to two years.
- People working in healthcare or social work involved in patient care
The Vaccinations are usually available in October and should be accessed as early as possible. Businesses can support eligible employees to ensure they take advantage of the free jabs where relevant.
Those who are not considered ‘high risk’ and therefore are not able to receive a free vaccination can get vaccinated privately. Pharmacies and supermarkets can administer the vaccine which costs up to £20. Although most healthy adults can fight off a bout of flu in around a week, there has already been a significant increase in employers offering employees flu jabs as part of their corporate benefits package.
Interested companies can offer vouchers or arrange for a specialist to visit on-site to administer vaccinations making it easier for employees to access them.
“The hand was really quicker than the sneeze in the spread of disease,” says microbiologist and cleaning expert, Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Most work places are a perfect environment for the spread of viruses, especially influenza, which is already highly contagious. This is a perfect time of year to remind employees about the importance of good hygiene:
- Covering nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and immediately binning used tissues and washing hands.
- Regular and thorough hand washing will minimise the spread of germs.
- The average desk apparently contains about 400 times more germs than a toilet seat and flu germs can survive for up to eight hours on hard surfaces, so door handles, light switches, printers, kettles all become potential transmitters of infection.
- Hand-sanitisers of at least 60% alcohol are a great addition to a healthy workplace. However, they should be used in conjunction with hand-washing with soap and water, not instead of it as they cannot tackle all germs or clean visibly dirty hands.
- Keep kitchen sponges, dishcloths, desks, hand-towels clean and disinfected both in the office and at home can help to minimise the spread of infection.
Encourage sick employees to stay home until they are fully well before returning to work. Flu suffers can spread the illness for up to around a week after first showing symptoms. It may be inconvenient to have one member off work for a week, but better that than half the team.
A healthy lifestyle will not only lower the chance of your teams catching flu and other seasonal illnesses, but will help to reduce recovery time if caught. This is yet another reason to actively encourage employees to eat a healthy balanced diet with lots of fruit, get plenty of rest and sleep and take part in regular exercise.
Keeping your staff happy can also reduce illness. New research has found that people who are in good spirits on the day of their vaccination are more likely to find it successful in preventing flu later in the year.
Kavita Vedhara, Professor of Health Psychology, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences who carried out the research said. “We have known for many years that a number of psychological and behavioural factors such as stress, physical activity and diet influence how well the immune system works and these factors have been shown to influence how well vaccines protect against disease.”