Reducing Non-Healthcare Workers' Exposures to Seasonal Flu Virus
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.
There are some basic precautions that can protect workers during the flu season. This page gives employers and managers information about how to protect workers whose job tasks involve contact with coworkers and the general public. Workers who provide healthcare services are addressed separately. All employers can implement a combination of controls to protect workers and reduce the transmission of the seasonal flu virus in the workplace. Workplace controls include:
- promoting vaccination;
- encouraging sick workers to stay home;
- promoting hand hygiene and cough etiquette;
- keeping the workplace clean; and
- addressing travel concerns.
Pandemic flu remains a concern for all 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 give a baseline for infection control during a seasonal flu outbreak, but they may not be enough to protect workers during a pandemic. Your 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 you will have the right type of equipment and an adequate supply of it on hand to protect workers. It also ensures that you have planned for additional control options so that you can pick the right combination for the specific pandemic flu virus. For additional information on pandemic flu planning, see OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic and CDC's business planning resources.
Basic Precautions for All Work Activities
Encourage Workers to Get Vaccinated
Encourage workers to get the seasonal flu vaccine when it is available. Consider hosting a flu vaccination clinic in your workplace. For additional information about seasonal flu vaccine priorities, see Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine.
Encourage Sick Workers to Stay Home
Encourage sick workers to stay home. 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.
Develop flexible leave policies that encourage workers to stay home, without penalty, if they are sick. Discuss other human resource policies with staff, including administrative leave transfer between employees, pay policy for sick leave, childcare options, and what to do when ill during travel.
Develop a Policy for Workers and Clients Who Become Ill in the Workplace
Useful CDC resources: Stopping the Spread of Germs at Home, Work and School, and Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings.
Develop a policy on how to deal with workers and clients who may be ill with the flu and communicate it to your workers. See CDC's Seasonal Flu Information for Businesses and Employees for information about how to develop this type of policy.
Determine who will be responsible for assisting ill individuals in the workplace and make sure that at least one person can serve as the "go to" person if someone becomes sick in the workplace.
Consider how to separate ill workers from others, or give them a surgical mask to wear, if possible and if they can tolerate it, until they can go home.
Promote Hand Hygiene and Cough Etiquette
Workers, visitors, and clients should have easy access to supplies such as:
- "No touch" wastebaskets for used tissues;
- Soap and water;
- Alcohol-based hand rubs;
- Disposable towels;
- Cleaning and sanitation materials.
Lobbies, halls, and restrooms should have the above items and workers should know where they are.
Wash hands after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, or coming into contact with mucus or contaminated objects and surfaces.
Apply soap and water: rub soapy hands together for at least 20 seconds, rinse hands with water, and dry completely.
Alcohol-based hand rubs: 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.
Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, or cough and sneeze into your upper sleeve(s).
Dispose of used tissues in "no-touch" wastebaskets.
Keep the Workplace Clean
Frequently clean all commonly touched work surfaces, work areas, and equipment (e.g., telephones, doorknobs, lunch areas, countertops, copiers, etc.).
Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label. No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended by CDC.
Provide disinfectants and disposable towels for workers to use to clean their work spaces and surfaces and to keep work areas clean.
Educate Workers About the Flu and Conditions That Place Them at Higher Risk for Flu Complications
Train workers about how flu can be transmitted in the workplace and what precautions they can use to prevent transmission. Provide information about the following:
- signs, symptoms, and complications of the flu;
- policies and procedures for reporting flu symptoms, using sick leave, and returning to work;
- vaccination; and
- any required work practices.
CDC has identified groups that have a higher risk for complications from seasonal flu (e.g., elderly, pregnant women, small children, persons with asthma, etc.).
Inform workers that some people are at higher risk of complications from flu and suggest that they talk to their doctor about their own risk and what to do if they become ill.
Address Travel and Sickness While on Travel
Reconsider business travel to areas with high illness rates; see up-to-date travel advisories.
CDC recommends the following measures for workers who becomes ill while on travel:
- Advise workers who become ill while traveling or on temporary assignment to notify their supervisors.
- Workers who become ill while traveling and are at increased risk of flu complications and others concerned about their illness should promptly call a healthcare provider.
- Advise workers to check themselves for fever and any other signs of flu-like illness before starting travel and to notify their supervisors and stay home if they feel ill.
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.