Preventing flu outbreaks at work

Four tips for companies and employers

The flu virus is transmitted from hand to hand

The current flu season is in full swing. In many cases, the virus is transmitted from hand to hand and can spread extremely quickly. But companies can actively protect their employees – by raising awareness and offering simple preventative measures like hand washing. 

The flu epidemic is rolling on 

Preventing flu infections – millions of people try to stay out of the viruses’ way every year. Despite great medical progress, every year thousands of people become infected with the influenza virus. In many European countries, flu activity has reached epidemic threshold1. And the outbreak is yet to recede.


Flu virus is transmitted from hand to hand

Hand touching door handle
The flu virus can survive on surfaces such as door handles

But why is it so easy for the virus to spread? There are several reasons. For one, the virus is very robust. It can survive up to 48 hours on surfaces like door handles and hand rails on buses.2 In other words: If one colleague opens the office door on Monday to say hello, other colleagues can still get infected on Wednesday. Without having touched or even seen their colleague in the first place. On top of that, many people make it easy for the virus to spread: It’s especially easy for it to travel from the hands to the mucous membranes.

This is due to habits: People touch their faces up to five times an hour – for example to scratch the skin or remove wayward strands of hair. The pathogens can then easily get into the body via the mouth, nose and eyes.


How to wash hands for flu prevention

Hand washing
Hand washing can help prevent the flu

Studies show: Hand washing reduces the incidence of infectious diseases like influenza, head colds and stomach bugs by up to 50%.3 For optimal protection, hand washing should include water, soap, a clean single-use towel and about 30 seconds of your time. Make sure to lather the hands with a generous amount of soap, including the back of the hand and the spaces between the fingers. Always dry the hands after washing them. To save resources, it’s best to turn off the tap while lathering with soap.

The temperature of the water is unimportant: Hands will get equally clean when washed with warm or cold water.


Four tips against high sickness rates due to flu


Woman sneezing
Employers can take action for flu prevention at work

Infectious diseases are inconvenient and sometimes dangerous for those affected. They are also an economic factor: In Germany alone, companies lose around €130 billion due to sickness rates.4 That’s about € 3,600 per person. Every flu infection is one too many. But it is especially troublesome when employees infect each other: empty hallways, unworked contracts and loss of turnover ensue.

Managers who want to avoid this situation should follow these four steps: 

  1. Make sure that all washrooms are stocked with enough supplies such as soap. The best choice: soap from a dispenser, which is more hygienic than bars of soap.
  2. Towels not only dry people’s hands, they also remove any remaining dirt. That’s why clean towels made of cotton or paper should always be on hand.
  3. In public spaces, companies or areas with high hygiene standards such as catering firms and grocery shops, use of a hand disinfectant in addition to regular hand washing and to ensure compliance with general preventative measures is advisable. In the medical field, hygienic hand disinfection is mandatory. Read more about hand disinfection in our interview with hygiene expert Prof. Zastrow.
  4. Educate your employees. There are many resources to accomplish this, such as posters or stickers for the washroom mirror such as the one below.
Image guide about proper hand washing


2 Prof. Dr. Exner, Rheinische Universität Bonn

3 bzw. Beratungsunternehmen Booz & Company

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