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Is Your Business Ready for a Flu Outbreak?

Experts are predicting this flu season to be one of the worst in decades. In addition to the regular flu the novel H1N1, also known as swine flu, will again rear its ugly head. A flu outbreak affects more than individual’s health. Communities, schools and businesses will all be impacted by the virus. Will your business be ready for a flu outbreak?

Dr. Mary Capelli-Schellpfeffer, medical director of Loyola University Health System Occupational Health Services, offers advice for how businesses can prepare and respond to the flu.

“An organization can be severely impacted by people coming to work when they’re sick. We know illness can spread from person to person causing entire work groups to be impacted. But less obvious is how job performance, organization, productivity, creativity and financial stability can all be affected,” said Capelli-Schellpfeffer.

Sickness can interrupt productivity by creating a distraction and causing both the infected person and coworkers to focus on the illness instead of their jobs. It can affect how outsiders, such as clients and customers, view the stability of the company as well.

“Encourage employees who are sick to use their sick time. Many don’t know they have it because they’ve never had to use it,” said Capelli-Schellpfeffer. “Make sure to plan ahead so if you have a deadline there are procedures in place - like how to work from home. By making small changes and preparing for illness we can protect each other and our businesses.”

People often think because they wash their hands or take over-the-counter medications, they aren’t spreading the illness. Not so.

“Just being in a room and breathing when a person is sick can spread the illness, not to mention coughing and sneezing. If you’re sick you shouldn’t be in the workplace. It interrupts business and puts others at risk of infection,” said Capelli-Schellpfeffer.

To prepare and protect your business from a flu outbreak Dr. Capelli-Schellpfeffer offers the following four tips:

1.Communicate your policy on attendance when sick
Make sure employees are aware of the company’s attendance policy and identify a point person for questions. Give examples to illustrate when employees should stay home due to sickness.
2.Prepare for unexpected absences
With schools and daycares closing many parents are forced to leave work to care for their children. Sick employees also should be sent home to avoid spreading disease. This results in difficulties with staffing. Be sure your company has a plan in place to meet staffing needs if affected.
3.Good housekeeping equals good health
Regular surface cleaning minimizes germ exposure. Eliminate clutter on counters, especially around sinks and food preparation areas, to ease the job of wiping down these often germ-filled areas and promote quick drying.
4.Focus your company’s culture on health
This includes having a prevention program that offers annual flu shots, informs employees about ways to stay healthy and what to do to avoid infectious illness. Also, find prominent places to hang posters that remind people to wash their hands before meals, after sneezing or coughing, and when moving between tasks.

“While news cycles and the public’s attention span about the flu rises and wanes, the flu is not going away,” said Capelli-Schellpfeffer. “Though there is a cost involved in promoting wellness, it is small in comparison to the pricey hit companies take when their workforce is impaired by illness. A flu shot program is an investment that yields big returns for businesses.”

Loyola Occupational Health Services provides onsite company stress management and wellness workshops. For more information call toll-free (888) LUHS-888.

Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, Loyola University Health System is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and 25 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus, Loyola University Hospital, is a 561-licensed-bed facility. It houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children’s Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus in Melrose Park includes the 264-bed community hospital, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness and the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Care Center.

Evie Polsley | Newswise Science News
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