Omnitracs' Road Ahead blog

3 key ways to prevent or combat a coronavirus, flu, or cold outbreak in the workplace


It seems only fair that cold and flu season should be canceled in light of the global coronavirus pandemic, but alas, the season is right around the corner.

Since March of this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought Americans — and many around the globe — front and center with the painful realities of severe viral infections. Like the coronavirus, the flu and cold are also viruses. Fortunately, unlike the coronavirus, they have lower mortality and overall health risks — although both should be taken seriously.

While you can get a cold year-round, the most widespread and common cases occur in the winter, as the viruses that cause colds spread more easily with temperature drops and increased humidity. Unfortunately, this is also right in line with the flu season.

There are an estimated 39 to 56 million Americans infected with the flu every year. So far, only 9% of Americans have been infected with COVID-19 — a far cry from the 60% to 70% number we’d need to obtain possible herd immunity. As such, cold and flu season amid a global pandemic could be a hygienic nightmare for your workplace if you’re unprepared. Fortunately, there are many ways to promote health and sanitation and prevent or combat a viral infection in the workplace. Here are three key ones:

#1:  Have extensive hygiene practices and an outbreak response plan in place

By now, we’re all familiar with the standard and essential sanitary practices needed to reduce viral spread, including washing our hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, maintaining at least six feet of social distance from others, and wearing face masks to prevent respiratory droplets from contaminating people or surfaces. In addition to making these practices mandatory in the workplace, you can go the extra mile with required temperature and health checks every morning. Have an employee or two ready to greet other employees at the door with a reliable thermometer and a health questionnaire.

Let’s say even with all these necessary hygienic practices in place you still have an employee test positive in the workplace. You can be prepared by designing an outbreak response plan that accounts for concrete actions you should take to protect your employees and sanitize your workplace.

Here are several vital tips the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends:

Immediately send the employee home, and close off any areas they came in contact with.

If possible, wait 24 hours before disinfecting all potentially-infected areas with soap and water and an approved disinfectant. During this waiting period, open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation.

Inform employees right away of any confirmed or possible case or cases, but be sure to maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

#2: Develop a thorough and flexible plan for sick leave

The CDC also recommends you implement a flexible sick leave policy that is consistent with public health guidelines. A flexible sick leave policy should incorporate time for employees to recover and test negative for the coronavirus, should their sickness relate to that. Be aware, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires specific employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave or extended medical leave for coronavirus-related reasons. So, not only will your employees appreciate your flexibility and emphasis on their wellbeing, but you’ll also remain compliant with government policies.

You can also incorporate flexible telework policies for employees recovering from a virus who are still in reasonably good health and want to work. Additionally, ensure that you have an open-door policy related to communication, so workers particularly vulnerable to the flu or the coronavirus can reach out to you for additional health support.

#3: Communicate, educate, reiterate

By now, most workplaces have sent out at least one communication to their teams and customers related to COVID-19. Releasing regular communication in line with cold and flu season is an effective way to reiterate important information to your employees.

Further, stay in the know on cold, flu, and coronavirus outbreaks and cases in your area to keep your employees regularly updated and more on guard if needed. One way to go about this is by distributing a monthly email or newsletter to your employees on relevant topics and helpful tips related to these viruses.

If you’re looking for tips specific to trucking, read how you can help truckers stay safe and sanitary on the front lines with helpful guidance from Transport Canada.