Workplace Prevention Tips For Flu, Illness, And Sick Days

Using indoor air quality and indoor environmental quality improvements to mitigate flu and illness in the workplace.

For companies, winter weather and the flu season only mean one thing, employee sick days. With COVID-19 cases resurging with the Omicron and Delta variants, many industries are bracing for a higher than average number of sick leave employees. To mitigate this increase in sick days, companies are looking toward ways to sustain the health and well-being of their employees. When it comes to workplace environments, there is no better solution than improving indoor air quality (IAQ) and, subsequently, the office's indoor environmental quality (IEQ). Read on to learn what steps your company can take to thwart flu and illness in the workplace.

Why Do Employees Get Sick With Changing Seasons?

Research suggests that individuals get sick with a cold or flu on average 2-4 times a year. Before COVID-19, the sickness rate largely coincided with the seasonal weather changes. However, a growing percentage of colds are caused by pathogen infections. According to joint research from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Mayo Clinic, 10-40% of colds are caused by the human Rhinovirus. Studies suggest that during colder months, the lowered temperature of our noses may result in our immune systems having a more challenging time preventing the Rhinovirus.

Additionally, with every seasonal change, environmental allergens spike, and we can experience up to 200 different viruses in the air. Airborne viruses contribute significantly to people contracting colds and other bronchial and sinus-related illnesses. Common colds can cause the following symptoms:

  • Stuffy nose
  • Scratchy or sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Mucus draining from the nose
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • More time sleeping
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lower energy or fatigue

As seasons change and colder weather become constant, buildings become more closed off to retain heat. This results in reduced ventilation and minimal clean air exchanges, further increasing the concentration of airborne pathogens indoors. As a result of these poor indoor air quality conditions, employees often see an increase in sick days and employees on sick leave 2 to 4 times a year.

Your company must have a proactive policy for sick employees or have contracted a contagious virus. Be sure this policy encourages employees to work from home during the incubation period of their illness and not feel pressured to come into the office. Many companies make this mistake resulting in widespread workplace infections. Companies should routinely update these policies in accordance with the newest CDC guidelines.

Technologies That Can Help Reduce Spread of COVID-19, Flus, Infections, And Common Colds.

Since the onset of COVID-19, companies began seeking technological solutions to reduce airborne and surface viral transmission. Per recommendations by the CDC, ASHRAE, and additional industry leaders, HVAC ventilation, air purifiers, and UV-C disinfection have become vital solutions. Read on to learn about each of the technologies and how they may help reduce the spread of COVID-19, variants, flu, and common colds.

Portable Air Purifiers

Also referred to as portable air cleaners, these plug-and-play devices provide unrivaled air filtration and air exchanges. They are designed to capture and reduce common airborne contaminants through a series of filters and electronic air cleaning technologies. Air purifiers can rapidly reduce the presence of airborne pathogens and particulate matter. Air Purifiers also commonly feature some form of HEPA filtration. The gold standard for HEPA filtration is True HEPA, as when in a sealed system, a True HEPA filter can reduce airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns in size.

HVAC Filters And Inline Air Purifiers

HVAC systems are essential to a building's ability to support occupancy and maintain comfortable indoor climates year-round. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought light to the critical air filtration, air exchanges, and air ventilation HVAC systems provide. Now in focus as a viral mitigation tool, facility managers have received new recommendations to improve the functionality of their HVAC systems.

For improved air filtration, HVAC systems are recommended to use MERV 13 filters, providing HEPA-equivalent air filtration. Additionally, industry leaders also recommended the use of HVAC inline air purifiers. These systems implement electronic air cleaning technologies such as needlepoint bi-polar ionization (NPBI), UVGI, UV-C, or hydroxyl generation. In-office spaces and extensive facilities, inline air purifiers featuring ActivePure® Technology have also become commonplace.

UV-C Disinfection Robots

UV-C disinfection has long been known to reduce the presence of pathogens and bacteria. UV-C technology has evolved into a new form of autonomous robots in recent years. These systems developed by world-renowned robotics companies incorporate hospital-grade and multi-bulb UV-C disinfection. Due to their independent and program-based remote operation, UV-C robots can provide automated disinfection.

Packed with advanced safety features and 3D room mapping, robot operations can set preset disinfection schedules to auto-run when the facility is unoccupied. Advanced UV-C robots such as Sanalife's UVD Robot Model C use perimeter safety, PIR sensors, and thermal imaging to detect people and shut-off to prevent UV-C exposure.

Flu And Common Cold Prevention Tips For An Office

As more Americans return to workplace environments following COVID-19 closures, employers should increase their flu and cold prevention protocols. It is estimated that in 2019-2020 more than 21 million working-age Americans had flu-related symptomatic illnesses; of those, over 160,000 resulted in hospitalizations. Experts are not sure what the impending flu season will look like with a combination of COVID-19, new variants, and the common flu.

Albert Rizzio, M.D. Chief Medical Officer of the American Lung Association (ALA); believes, "All employers should actively promote healthy habits to help prevent the spread of flu, address barriers, and make it easier for employees to get [the flu vaccine] at their earliest opportunity... Keeping staff health benefits not only individual workers but employers too, making flu prevention not only an obligation but a smart business strategy."

In accordance, the ALA has provided the following best practices for mitigating the spread of flu and viral infections in the workplace.

  • Your employees might be coming to work sick because they can't afford missing work. Consider revisiting your sick leave policy to reduce the flu outbreak and further workplace infection. You can consider more sick pay, reasonable unpaid leave, adding sick time vs. paid vacation time.
  • Encourage workers to stay home if they feel sick. And ask employees who appear to have flu symptoms to recover at home to reduce spreading respiratory illness.
  • Offer flexible work options, so employees feel comfortable staying home. Employees can telework to take care of sick family members or recover from mild flu symptoms. Also, consider offering flexible paid sick leave so that your employees are encouraged to stay home and not spread illnesses for fear of lost wages.
  • Educate employees on what flu-like symptoms look like. This includes fatigue, fever, runny nose, body aches, cough, sore throat, and stuffed-up sinuses.
  • Implement air purification technologies so that viruses aren't spread around your office as quickly due to increased ventilation and air cleaning cycles.
  • Provide facial tissue, no-touch technology, hand-washing stations, as well as alcohol-based hand sanitizer to promote preventive actions. Put up signage, such as posters and flyers that explain healthy habits and employee policies.
  • Help promote flu shots. Flu vaccination is a great way to protect against the flu; hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received routine flu shots.
  • Try to follow CDC's best practices for flu prevention in the workplace.

Office managers and workplace facility managers should also consider implementing traditional cold and flu prevention tactics. This is especially critical in buildings with high levels of occupancy or increased risk of viral transmission. Such tactics include accessible hand hygiene (hand sanitizer) stations and access to anti-microbial cleaning products.

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