Being ill at work is never a good thing, and for employers it can be a major headache, as staff who are sick either take time off work or are not able to perform to their full capability. Worse still, those who do drag themselves into the office to work when they’re ill can actually make matters worse by infecting other staff.

From commutes on public transport to shared kitchen surfaces, from air conditioning units to switches and handles, there are many situations in which infection can be passed on throughout each and every day. A study has shown that if just one employee comes into work sick, within four hours more than 50 percent of surfaces and employees are infected!1

The best solution, therefore, is to prevent infection before it occurs or at least nip illness in the bud, both of which involve educating staff about common illnesses and how to reduce the spread of germs. Some of the surfaces most at risk of being full of germs include the coffee pot handle, telephones, and desktops, but studies have shown that simple interventions such as hand washing and the use of hand sanitiser or anti-bacterial wipes can drastically reduce the risk of infection.1

The common cold

Also known as the rhinovirus, the symptoms include a stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing and a sore throat, with the contagious period lasting for up to five days. The best option to avoid contraction is to avoid any contact with cold sufferers, encouraging people not to touch their eyes, nose or mouth, and frequently disinfecting surfaces they come into contact with. Covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing can help to reduce the spread of germs, and ensuring hands are washed afterwards and tissues thrown away.

Flu

A more extreme version of a cold, the symptoms of influenza also include a fever, headache, muscle ache, fatigue and chills. The contagious period can last an entire week, and to help prevent infection the best avoidance methods are to follow the same steps as you would take to avoid a cold. One other effective option is to encourage staff to have a yearly flu jab, which can be done at their local GP. The flu vaccine is offered free of charge on the NHS to people who are deemed high risk, including people aged 65 and over, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions.2 To find out if you are eligible for a free vaccine, visit the NHS website. 

Gastroenteritis

Commonly known as stomach flu, this condition can be debilitating and is characterised by vomiting, diarrhoea and a fever. It can often be contracted from food that is not correctly prepared or washed and so any kitchen surfaces in the office need to be regularly disinfected. The contagious period can be up to six days, and other surfaces that a gastroenteritis sufferer has touched can also spread infection, so regularly disinfection with alcohol or a disinfectant spray is important.

Strep throat

Also known as streptococcus, the symptoms include throat pain, difficulty swallowing, swollen tonsils, fever and headache. Due to the aggressive nature of the illness, the contagious period can last for three whole weeks if untreated and infect other staff members easily. Avoiding all contact with sufferers can significantly reduce the chances of infection, as well as regular hand-washing and the disinfection of surfaces the individual has touched or been in close contact with. If antibiotics are not prescribed, the best course of action for the infected employee would be to stay clear of the office until their symptoms have disappeared to help reduce the risk of infection.

Conjunctivitis

Characterised by weeping in one or both eyes, itchiness, tearing and crusting, conjunctivitis is also known as pink eye due to the redness it causes. As it can easily spread, encouraging staff to regularly wash their hands can reduce the risk of infection spreading. The contagious period lasts between three and seven days and during this time it is advised that employees stay away from the office and regularly disinfect all surfaces they come in to contact with.

RSV

Symptoms of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are similar to those of a cold but there is a distinct difference, with earache generally occurring. It is best to avoid close contact with RSV sufferers, but due to the airborne nature of the virus, it is also recommended that they are kept away from offices, which have air conditioning or fans that can spread infection quickly. The contagious period lasts from two to eight days so it is best to take a cautious approach until staff have recovered.

Being prepared for staff illnesses can help to take the strain off your business. You could do this easily by providing staff with plenty of antibacterial hand wash in toilets and kitchen areas, giving access to hand sanitisers and ensuring there is a supply of antibacterial wipes in the cupboard so common surfaces that harbour germs can be regularly cleaned.

Being proactive about employee health by providing staff with a health care cash plan can provide a financial benefit for the individual while also helping to keep them healthy. For more information about Sovereign Health Care’s range of employer-paid cash plans, please visit https://www.sovereignhealthcare.co.uk/business/

1 University of Arizona https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/germs-spread-fast-at-work-study-finds

2 NHS http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vaccinations/Pages/who-should-have-flu-vaccine.aspx

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