Workplace Flu Prevention Starts With the Air You Breathe

There's more to workplace flu prevention than employees washing their hands.

Wellness, company culture, flu prevention

Facilities managers may not consider flu prevention among their primary job duties, but their knowledge of indoor air quality and the particles it may carry could be the most important determinant of whether employees thrive during cold and flu season or succumb to it.

Here are some tips on how facilities managers can use flu experts' findings to keep the air clear of germs and reduce the spread of the flu virus.

Add Moisture to the Air

Flu season was once thought to be related to increased time spent indoors in shared spaces in the colder months, but the BBC reports that recent studies indicate moisture levels in the air — not the temperature of it — play an important role in whether the flu virus is likely to spread.

As a facilities manager, your decision to invest in air humidifiers could be a key step in flu prevention, especially when you purchase several units that are strategically placed in high-traffic, shared work areas. If an employee with the flu sneezes or coughs in a conference room that has moist air, for example, the particles emitted remain large and quickly drop out of the air. As a result, they're less prone to spread. In dry air, that same infected person's cough could emit the same number of particles initially, but the dry air makes particles more likely to divide. In turn, the small particles could hang in the air for several hours. Every employee or client who subsequently enters the conference room could theoretically inhale their way to the flu.

If utility conservation or costs are a concern, run the humidifiers during the workday only. Tyler Koep, former researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., tells the BBC that an air humidifier run for just an hour could have the potential to kill up to 30 percent of viruses in the air.

Upgrade Your Air Filters

Researchers at MIT believe HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters can remove up to 98 percent of virus particles from the air. Install HEPA filters in your company's HVAC systems, and establish a consistent schedule for when the filters are changed to preserve their efficacy. Wear a surgical mask during filter replacement to ensure you aren't exposed to the particles they've trapped, but haven't killed.

Leverage the Light

Ultraviolet (UVC) light air-purification technologies destroy all flu virus strains in the air, which may include those not used in seasonal flu vaccines.

"To be effective, an air purifier should exchange room air at least a couple times per hour, yet maintain the prolonged UV ray exposure necessary to destroy the pathogens," Wladyslaw Kowalski, PhD an author and expert on airborne infection control, explains to MarketWired.

Prices for UV light air-purification technology can vary by several hundred dollars. Be sure to confirm that any system you purchase has been tested by independent EPA- and FDA-certified laboratories to destroy viruses and bacteria before you base your decision on cost alone. According to Dr. Kowalski, some low-cost systems may lack sufficient UV light intensity, UV exposure time or air flow rates to effectively kill the virus.

Office flu prevention may not be one of your main job duties as the facilities manager, but the more you know about how germs travel through the air and how to stop them from spreading, the more effective you'll be at preventing a flu outbreak in your office.