Offering workers influenza immunizations cuts down on lost work time during flu season, according to a recent report in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Even something as simple as regular hand washing can help fight the flu.
The 3M Co. provided its workers in the Twin Cities area with free flu shots for the 1996-97 flu season. Of the 2,622 employees who received the shots, sick time decreased by an average of 1.2 hours compared with the previous flu season.
The results were more impressive for female employees under 50 with two or more children: They took 3.1 hours of less sick leave the year they were immunized compared to the year before.
However, vaccinations are not the only way to keep workers healthy during the flu season. The disease is spread easily through coughing, sneezing and simple hand contact.
Washing your hands regularly is the No. 1 recommendation in the seven-point checklist "Fighting Flu in the Workplace," put out by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).
The seven clinically proven ways to reduce work-related flu risks:
- Wash your hands frequently;
- An anti-viral drug is an option for those who should not get an influenza vaccine;
- Eat a balanced diet, get proper amounts of sleep, and exercise regularly;
- Educate your co-workers about the flu and its effects;
- Insure that at-risk co-workers are vaccinated first;
- Keep your distance; and
- Know your options about vaccine availability.
"In addition to vaccinations, washing the hands is one of the single most important things a worker can do to avoid getting the flu," says Dr. Elaine Larson, a professor at the Columbia School of Nursing. Larson calls habitual hand washing "the simplest protection money can buy."
The annual economic cost associated with influenza epidemics exceeds $12 billion, according to the Institute for Advanced Studies in Aging and Geriatric Medicine. Influenza is responsible for approximately 110,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths annually in the United States.
APIC estimates that the flu costs American businesses anywhere from 15 million to 150 million lost workdays each year.
Flu shots have been shown to reduce work absenteeism by 43 percent, APIC President Frances Slater says. The flu season is about to begin, and because it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, employers wishing to adopt this strategy do not have much time.