Although flu can be mild for many, people who are in at-risk groups are particularly susceptible to the seriousness of flu.
The Public Health Agency (PHA) is advising all employers of ways flu can be reduced in the workplace, leading to less sick days and a more productive workforce.
There are many actions employers can take to prevent flu viruses at work, the first of which is making adequate arrangements to allow employees who are in at-risk groups to get their flu vaccine early and give a reasonable amount of flexibility to accommodate employees getting out of work to visit their GP.
Dr Richard Smithson, Consultant in Health Protection, PHA, said: “Employers have a key role in protecting employees’ health. Encouraging at-risk employees to get their flu vaccine early is vital. Ensuring good hand hygiene and asking employees to stay at home when they are sick will help ensure that the workplace will remain healthy for everyone.”
Readily spread when people are indoors, flu viruses are often passed along from person to person and surface to surface in the workplace. Employers can help reduce the spread of all viruses by encouraging good personal hygiene:
- washing hands frequently with soap and water to reduce the spread of the virus from the hands to the face or to others;
- covering nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and using a tissue when possible;
- disposing of used tissues quickly and carefully and washing hands immediately;
- cleaning hard surfaces (eg door handles) frequently using your usual cleaning product.
Dr Smithson added: “Adequate supplies of liquid soap, hot and cold water, and paper towels (or, in the absence of paper towels, hot air dryers) should be available. Hand sanitisers may be useful in some circumstances (eg when staff travel away from base) but good hand washing facilities, with soap and water, are preferable where they can be provided.”
Supporting the PHA, Tanya Kennedy, Workplace Director, Business in the Community, said: “With over 700,000 people in Northern Ireland in employment, support from employers to make time for those at-risk to attend GP surgeries for a flu vaccination could potentially make a significant difference, not only to the wellbeing of the individual, but also to the wider community by reducing the spread of the virus and indeed to the business, by impacting positively on attendance, engagement and productivity. Many employers not only support time off for the inoculation, but offer surgeries within the workplace setting for administration of the vaccine to employees. This kind of health intervention demonstrates responsible business and offers measurable returns to employers.”
For more information on seasonal flu, go to www.fluawareni.info and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Contact the PHA Press Office on 028 9031 1611.
Notes to the editor
For more information about the flu vaccine for 2011/12 visit www.fluawareni.info or speak to your GP/nurse or member of staff at the antenatal clinic in your local Trust.
At-risk groups for flu include:
- Anyone aged 65 or over, even if they feel fit and healthy at the moment
- Pregnant women (at any stage of pregnancy)
- Children and adults who have any of the following medical conditions:
– a chronic chest condition such as asthma;
– a chronic heart condition;
– chronic kidney disease;
– lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroids or cancer therapy;
– a chronic neurological condition such as stroke, multiple sclerosis or a condition that affects your nervous system, such as cerebral palsy;
– any other serious medical condition – check with your doctor if you are unsure.
- Children who have previously been admitted to hospital with a chest infection.
- Children attending schools for children with severe learning difficulties.
- Anyone living in a residential or nursing home.
- Main carers for elderly or disabled people.