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Tip Sheets

Winning germ warfare in the workplace: Keep your hands to yourself or stay home

Media Contact

Lindsey Hadlock

This year’s flu, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates caused more than 125,000 illnesses since the beginning of the season, is showing no sign of abatement. Even an ordinary seasonal flu epidemic will still kill several thousand people every year in the U.S. alone. While public health officials recommend getting vaccinated, workplaces remain hotbeds of possible contagion.

Nellie Brown

Nellie Brown

Director of Workplace Health & Safety Programs

Nellie Brown is a Certified Industrial Hygienist, and director of Workplace Health & Safety Programs at Cornell University’s School of Labor and Industrial Relations. She leads over one hundred trainings about workplace health and safety around New York state and offers some tips on how to minimize the potential for virus spreading at the office.

Brown says:

Think about what you touch in and out of the office. Did you use an ATM? Did you put gas in your car? If you were in a conference room - did you touch the table and chairs at the meeting? Did you borrow a stapler? Did you go to the water cooler and touch the handle? We touch a lot of things in common and that’s how diseases are spread.

Clean with germicide. In order to prevent the spread of germs, clean surfaces with an EPA-registered germicide that kills influenza. Do a thorough handwashing with regular soap and wash your hands more often. If you use a tissue, throw it away. If you are headachy and stuffy, watch your sneezing etiquette - when you cough or sneeze the droplets can spread easily six feet.

“Stay home. People with the flu should be instructed to not report to work. With the virus being contagious, it’s best to have employees with the flu stay home. If you are achy below the neck, exhausted or feverish, your body is saying you need to rest – so listen to it.

Tell employees to stay home. Employers should have non-punitive medical leave policies. Otherwise, people come to work sick and that doesn’t help anybody. Flu can make some people seriously ill and, in addition to human suffering, the employer also pays a price for that. There’s an advantage to the employer in not having people who are contagious come to work.”

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