The 2017 flu season saw over 1, 000 people over the age of 65 die from influenza related complications, prompting action from the Federal Government to maximise protection of senior Australians and prevent a repeat of last year’s devastating flu season. Earlier this month it was announced that all Aged Care facilities are now required to provide free flu shots for all employees.
A national survey of over 2,609 facilities revealed:
- Only 3.5% of facilities had the recommended staff immunisation coverage of 95% or higher to gain ‘herd immunity’
- 9% had the recommended resident coverage of 95% or higher
- 43% reported at least one influenza outbreak in the previous year
- Those providing in-house staff vaccination programs had higher coverage than those who only encouraged staff to go to an external immunisation provider
Health Minister Greg Hunt and Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt said the results of a survey had shown a significant link between increased staff immunisation and outbreaks of influenza in Aged Care facilities.
Mr Wyatt urged all Australians to have a flu shot, especially those who regularly visited loved ones living in Aged Care homes.
What else can employers do to protect both their employees and their clients?
The cold and flu season inevitability means a rise in sick leave and absenteeism. Under Work Health and Safety (WHS) legislation, employers have an obligation to ensure (so far as is reasonably practicable) a safe and healthy work environment, free from harmful risks to health and safety of employees and others in the workplace. While employers cannot control the seasons, there are other reasonable actions employers can take to ensure a healthy work environment for staff, and any vulnerable clients they work with.
Flu prevention in the workplace
Steps to limit the infection, impact and spread of colds and flus in the workplace can include:
- Establishing and enforcing a clear Leave Policy and Procedure covering sick leave, aligned to the National Employment Standards (NES) and any other applicable industrial instruments.
- Managing and discouraging ‘Presenteeism’ – when employees come to work sick when they should really be at home recovering. Employers are able to ask employees to take personal leave and return when well (or obtain a medical clearance in order to continue to present at work with cold/flu-like symptoms); such a request would fall under an employers’ duty to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for all persons.
- Providing hygiene products in the workplace to prevent the transfer of colds and flus like tissues, hand wash, disinfectant sprays/gels/wipes etc.
- Discouraging visitors to the workplace who have a cold or flu. If a visitor is expected for a meeting and known to be unwell, reschedule the meeting until after the person recovers or consider a teleconference.
- Displaying visual reminders in the workplace like a ‘Stop the Spread’ or ‘Correct Handwashing’ posters which remind individuals of the key steps in preventing the spread of viruses.
- Encouraging and providing information on flu vaccinations. All employers should consider offering reimbursed flu shots as a demonstration of commitment towards employee wellbeing.
If you need advice on managing employee wellbeing programs or ongoing personal leave, give one of our experienced team members a call on 1300 406 005.