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Tips for promoting a healthy workplace this winter

With the chilly weather here to stay, it’s time to get cold and flu season-savvy in your office to ensure employee productivity doesn’t slide as a result of illness.

Poor personal hygiene is a big cause of illness in the workplace, with an alarming 85 percent of people witnessing others not using a tissue or hanky to wipe their nose, according to a Wagner survey of 1200 Australians.

Just over 70 percent of those polled cited an ill family member as a major risk to their own health, closely followed by being overworked, rundown or stressed (67 percent). A further two-thirds of those surveyed considered an unwell work colleague as a major risk factor.

According to naturopath and TV presenter Emma Sutherland, the findings highlight the need for business owners to be proactive about their personal hygiene and that of their employees, to promote good health at the office this winter.

“Public transport, crowded offices and busy bars and restaurants mean increased exposure to germs. I’ve found people who act to enhance their immune function, often through simple measures, are less likely to catch a cold from their sniffling neighbours,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland’s top tip for preventing colds and flu involves a diet of vitamin, mineral and antioxidant-rich foods such as berries, raisins, sweet potato, broccoli, apples, carrots, tomatoes and kiwifruit. She also suggests adding ginger and chilli to dishes and boost immunity.

It’s also vital to maintain adequate levels of Vitamin D in winter with full fat dairy, sardines, egg yolks and cod liver oil. Protein is essential for infection-fighting antibodies and is found in both animal (lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy foods) and plant sources (legumes, tofu and tempeh). It’s also a good idea to try to reduce your sugar, alcohol, caffeine and processed food intake as these leach vital vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

To reduce the spread of infection in the workplace, employees should wash hands regularly and thoroughly, maintain an hygienic workspace – the average desk harbors 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat – and avoid touching their face, especially after using keyboards and telephones.

Getting out of the office air conditioning wherever possible is another good way to ward off germs and Sutherland advises against eating on public transport as this rapidly increases exposure to germs.

Regular moderate exercise increases the body’s production of natural cold-killing cells and quality sleep keeps stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol under control. Smoking, on the other hand, depletes Vitamin C and Zinc which are two major nutrients used by the immune system.

Should you or an employee become ill, Sutherland said the right thing to do is remain at home:

“By going into work you run the risk of infecting colleagues and continuing the cycle,” she said.

Encouragingly, almost three quarters of those surveyed by Wagner agreed with Sutherland, stating they were likely to take the day off work due to cold and flu symptoms.