Colds and Flu: Stop the spread in your office this winter

Take action to limit the spread of colds and flu in your office through practical intervention strategies.

High cold and flu rates this winter mean there will likely be more absences and less productivity in the workplace.

Colds and Flu Prevention

Winter is well and truly upon us and with the colder weather comes the dreaded flu season. Already, Australia has started seeing record numbers of flu cases in various states across the country. Low immunity due to lockdowns and low vaccination rates are expected to cause an increase in annual flu cases compared to the past two years. Further, with people back at the office for the most part, this trend is likely to continue.

In just 2022, there have already been 38,743 flu cases across the country. According to The Australian Influenza Surveillance Report for the fortnight ending 22 May 2022, the weekly number of notifications of laboratory-confirmed influenza cases reported in Australia has already exceeded the 5-year average!1

For employers, these numbers mean that there are likely going to be more absences, less productivity and more downtime. Because the flu virus has ample opportunity to spread between colleagues working in close quarters, it is important to have the right policies and practices in place to protect them from the virus this flu season. In addition to hiring commercial cleaning services to thoroughly clean and disinfect surfaces at the end of each workday, here are a few steps employers can take to stop the spread of colds and flu in the winter:

Encourage Immunisations

The first and best defence against the influenza virus are annual vaccinations. Like coronavirus, the influenza virus is constantly mutating and evolving, which means that the vaccinations used to defeat them also need to be updated every year. Scientists and microbiologists are constantly researching and modifying flu vaccines to make them effective against the dominant strain of the year, which is why getting your annual flu shot is so important.

Encourage your employees to get their flu shot every year well ahead of the flu season. You may want to introduce incentives to increase motivation, or even organise for flu shots to be done by a qualified nurse at work.  Luckily for Australians, almost all states offers free flu vaccines to those considered to be at higher risk of severe illness, including:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from six months of age
  • children from six months to under five years of age
  • people with serious health conditions (including severe asthma, diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, obesity, kidney, heart, lung or liver disease)
  • pregnant women
  • people aged 65 and over.2

To find posters and fact sheets about getting vaccinated against influenza, that are authorised by the Australian Government Department of Health, click here.

Introduce Workplace Hygiene Reminders

Put up flyers and posters across the office reminding people to wash their hands after using the restroom, getting their flu vaccinations, keeping their workstations clean and covering their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.  Although most people have mastered good hygiene habits over the course of the pandemic, having visual reminders placed in strategic locations around the office such as lifts, entrances, stairwells and above the sinks serve as effective reminders.

Allow for Flexible Work Arrangements

While most workplaces embraced hybrid working arrangements during the pandemic, many have now requested their workforce return to the office in some capacity – even full-time. Ensuring staff are able to continue to work from home when needed however, gives businesses greater power to combat the spread of flu. If your employees can work from home after combatting the worst of the virus for example, they will not feel the need to return to the workplace prematurely, when they may still be contagious.

Wherever possible, employers should be flexible and ensure staff are set up to work from home if needed. Employees should also be clear of your expected protocols of working at the office or at home this flu season.

Equip the Office for Cold and Flu Prevention 

If you haven’t already done so, now’s the time to introduce hand sanitiser stations at the workplace in addition to a range of other hygiene products designed to keep germs and pathogens at bay. These include disinfectant wipes and gels, tissues, soap, paper towels and no-touch rubbish bins. Your facility cleaning service provider can help you with keeping these well-stocked and ready to use.

Enlist the Help of a Commercial Cleaning Service

Once all your employees have returned home for the day, it’s time to call in professional cleaners to clean and disinfect high touchpoint areas like doorknobs, keyboards and phones, microwave and fridge handles and lift buttons. According to studies, both influenza A and B viruses are capable of surviving on hard, non-porous surfaces like stainless steel and plastic for up to 48 hours, making it essential for surfaces to be cleaned and disinfected at least once per day.3 Regular disinfection can prevent not just flu, but other diseases from spreading in the workplace.