Why Workplace Health and Safety has almost nothing to do with offices and everything to do with people.

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If you didn’t know it yet, this year has been the worst year for the flu in quite some time. And it’s not just Sydney that’s suffering. Across the nation, Australians are experiencing most serious flu epidemic we've had since swine flu in 2009.

Many of us sitting in office-based jobs and businesses tend to think of Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) as slips, trips and falls. But in the Engineering industry we widen our view of what makes a safe workplace. We're pretty accustomed to making sure we arrive at site with personal protective equipment (PPE) and all the necessary equipment to prevent obvious physical injury. However, we often forget that hygiene is an equally serious WHS issue.

Think about the last time someone in your workplace has a slip trip or fall.

Now, think about the last time when someone in your work place got a cold or flu.

All the time, right?

Influenza and other communicable illnesses are a legitimate WHS issue and it’s costing the nation. The latest data (see our sources below) predicts this flu season will cost Australian businesses $4.6 billion in lost productivity this year. It also suggests that employers should expect nearly half their people to tap into their sick leave; and of those that do tap into their sick leave, 20% of them will take 3 or more days off.

7 tips to keep all hands on deck this flu season

The good news is that you can move the needle on this issue. A cleaner office with less germs (and therefore less colds and flu) can be yours for the taking. Here’s 7 tips to get your team back in the game and right as rain:

  1. Be flexible, like a gymnast – Offer your squad flexible start and finish times and the choice to work from home. Crowded public transport is a sure fire way to catch colds and flu. By allowing people to be flexible and arrive and depart the workplace at off-peak times you are reducing the likelihood of people catching communicable diseases. Likewise, allowing people to work from home reduces the likelihood of them getting sick, and if they are coming down with an illness or recovering it will protect the rest of the office.

  2. Its posh to wash - On average, people touch their faces at least 18 times per hour so it is important that they regularly wash their hands. We know that 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch, the flu virus can survive outside the body on a hard surface for 24 hours.

  3. Keep it lean, mean and clean – with disinfectant wipes. Set a reminder to do wipe down your desk and workspace, mouse, keyboard, headsets and other equipment. after you shut down at the end of the day. Once leaders are observably doing this, others will follow suit. Have a box of tissues on every desk and a bin to pop them into once used also at every desk.

  4. Coffee, tea, petri dish? – Make sure mugs, glasses, crockery and cutlery are not left on desks at the end of every day. These need to go straight to the dishwasher (and not hanging around in the sink either) where they’re free to cultivate all kinds of icky bacteria.

  5. “Your Kitchen Rules” – Tea towels might be ok for at home, but they have no place in your workplace kitchen. Opt for paper towel instead. Make Friday “Flick it out of the fridge” day, where what’s left over from the week will get checked out. And to avoid the uproar from your tribe, make sure everyone is aware of the rules in advance and has a role to play in maintaining them.

  6. No jab, no play – Well, sort of. We know you legally can’t enforce a flu vax on everyone, however, offering the flu vaccination free to your team will absolutely make a dent on the illnesses. A great time to do this is Easter, before the season is in full swing.

  7. Get outta here! – Literally. Don’t eat lunch at your desk - encourage your people to get outside in the fresh air when the weather is good. Similarly, if they are coughing and spluttering, it’s time to get them out of the office, to the doctor and then to bed. No arguments!

Currently, the Australian Government advises that an annual vaccination is the best way of preventing the flu and any associated illness, and encourages all Australians of any age to get one. Because the flu virus is constantly changing, every year the flu vaccine changes too, so it protects against the flu strains which are most likely to be around during that winter.

Remember, you might be able to see that sparking wire, but just because you can’t see germs doesn’t mean they don’t do as much damage! Our WHS Legislation applies in EVERY office, on site – and every workplace you can think of.

We hope you have been unaffected by the 2017 flu season, but if you’re unlucky enough to find yourself laid up sick in bed, we’re sending you a virtual bowl chicken soup and best wishes for a speedy recovery!    

Find out more about how our team approaches safety here and follow us to see how we work!