This guidance provides baseline infection control procedures for seasonal flu. As new information about the current seasonal flu virus becomes available, this workplace guidance will be reevaluated and updated. Employers should ensure that they have the most up-to-date information when making decisions about their current operations and planning.
The best way to reduce your risk of exposure to the flu virus in your workplace is to use the basic hygiene precautions listed below and to avoid close contact with ill people. If your job involves contact with patients or other healthcare services, then you may need to take additional precautions. Precautions for healthcare workers are addressed separately.
Pandemic flu remains a concern for workers and employers. A pandemic can occur at any time and can be mild, moderate, or severe.
The pandemic in 2009 was considered by CDC to be mild but it still created challenges for employers and showed that many workplaces were not prepared. The precautions identified in this guidance provide a baseline for workplace precautions during a seasonal flu outbreak, but they may not be enough to protect you during a pandemic.
An employer’s pandemic flu plan should be based on a “worst-case” scenario – one in which the virus causes severe illness and death in larger numbers of people. Planning for the worst case ensures that employers will have the right type of equipment and enough of it on hand to protect their workers. It also ensures that employers have planned for additional control options so that they can pick the right combination for the specific pandemic flu virus.
You may have additional planning considerations too. For example, you may need to think about what you’ll do if schools and daycare facilities are closed. For additional information on pandemic flu planning, see Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace and the planning resources for the community.
All workers have the right to a safe workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) requires that employers provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers.
The Act created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which sets and enforces protective workplace safety and health standards. OSHA also provides information, training, and assistance to workers and employers. Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or there are serious hazards.
Protect Yourself During Flu Season
- Get vaccinated! Vaccination is the most important way to prevent the spread of the flu. For additional information about seasonal flu vaccine priorities, see Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine.
- Stay at home if you are sick. The CDC recommends that workers who have a fever and respiratory symptoms stay at home until 24 hours after their fever ends (100 degrees Fahrenheit [37.8 degrees Celsius] or lower), without the use of medication. Not everyone who has the flu will have a fever. Other symptoms could include a runny nose, body aches, headache, tiredness, diarrhea, or vomiting
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds; use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, or cough and sneeze into your upper sleeve(s). Throw tissues into a “no-touch” wastebasket.
- Clean your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
- When using soap and water, rub soapy hands together for at least 20 seconds, rinse hands with water, and dry completely.
- If soap and water are not available, use of an alcohol-based hand rub is a helpful interim measure until hand washing is possible. When using an alcohol-based hand rub, apply liquid to palm of hand, cover all surfaces of the hands with the liquid, and rub hands together until dry.
- Keep frequently touched common surfaces (e.g., telephones, computer equipment, etc.) clean.
- Try not to use a coworker’s phone, desk, office, computer, or other work tools and equipment. If you must use a coworker’s equipment, consider cleaning it first with a disinfectant.
- Avoid shaking hands or coming in close contact with coworkers and others who may be ill.
- Stay in shape. Eat a healthy diet. Get plenty of rest, exercise, and relaxation.
- Speak with your doctor and find out if you are in a high-risk category for seasonal flu (e.g., elderly, pregnant women, small children, persons with asthma, etc.).
- Participate in any training offered by your employer. Make sure that you understand how to stay healthy at work.
This guidance is advisory in nature and informational in content. It is not a standard or regulation, and it neither creates new legal obligations nor alters existing obligations created by OSHA standards or the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Pursuant to the OSH Act, employers must comply with safety and health standards and regulations issued and enforced either by OSHA or by an OSHA-approved State Plan. In addition, the Act’s General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
Spencer-SHE has been providing Safety, Health, and Environmental Compliance Guidance since 1980. Influenza reaches epidemic levels in the United States every year during flu season. Let our team help you prevent flu outbreaks with our preventive training.
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