Public health officials – not to mention the pork industry -- would rather we didn’t call it “swine flu” but by its official name H1N1. Whatever you call it, H1N1 influenza is already a “pandemic.” If that word weren’t worrying enough, the Center for Disease Control notes there are already 21 states reporting widespread influenza activity in the month of September 2009, noting: “Any reports of widespread influenza activity in September are very unusual.”
If you are like many business owners, you wonder (er, worry) about whether you’ll be able to keep your business running if employees and their families start coming down with H1N1. How will you maintain operations? That’s not even counting your concern over your employees’ well-being and that of yourself and your own loved ones. Not to mention what will happen if customers start staying home.
We may all wish that H1N1 turns out to be much ado about nothing, like the bird flu scare of 2007 – but don’t count on it. Here are 7 practical things you can do in your workplace to cut down the chances of you and your employees getting the H1N1 flu:
(1) Encourage your employees to get regular flu shots and H1N1 flu shots as soon as they become available. Since symptoms of regular flu may be hard to tell apart from mild cases of H1N1, get both kinds of flu shots. If your company-provided health insurance doesn’t cover the cost, then I recommend that you reimburse employees for the flu shots. Give employees time off from work during the day to get flu shots at a local flu-shot clinic or pharmacy. The cost of prevention will be minimal compared to the cost of dealing with an outbreak in your business.
(2) Install hand sanitizer dispensers near entrances and bathrooms. These should be for employees, customers and anyone else. Not only does it cut down on the spread of germs, but it’s a visible reminder about sanitation -- for everyone.
(3) Start a trend of sneezing into your upper sleeve, rather than into your hand. The best thing is to sneeze into a tissue that is promptly discarded. But if none is at hand, health officials recommend sneezing into your upper sleeve rather than your bare hand. It just spreads germs to sneeze into your hand, and then turn around and touch surfaces in the work place, shake hands with others, etc.
(4) Do not share phones, keyboards, mice or pens. Lots of germs reside on these devices. Occasionally have a phone and keyboard cleaning session – make disinfectant spray available liberally in the work place.
(5) Encourage everyone to wash hands frequently. Put your money where your mouth is, and go a few steps further. Make sure there is ample soap and towels in restrooms at all times. Consider upgrading to touch-less paper towel dispensers and touch-less waste cans, too.
(6) Remind employees not to come to work sick. Among some people there’s a belief that dragging yourself to work even when you’re obviously down with something and contagious, is somehow heroic. Let employees know that it’s just the opposite. It’s unsafe and inconsiderate.
(7) Be a good role model yourself. Take care of yourself. Get enough rest and don’t let yourself get run-down and susceptible to illness. Also, get flu shots as soon as possible to avoid getting the flu. Stay home if you’re sick.The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has issued a Preparedness Guide for Small Businesses that has a lot of additional tips and will help you create a preparedness plan for your business. See: “Planning for 2009 H1N1 Influenza.”