Like the rest of the country, south Puget Sound was hit hard last yearby an especially virulent flu strain. Local hospitals were deluged with patients.

Some health professionals claimed it was the worst outbreak they’d seen in years. Many employees missed work because they were too miserable—and infectious—to come in or had to stay home to nurse sick family members.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 20 percent of the population suffers from the flu every season. Most people who get the flu recover completely in one to two weeks, but some develop serious and potentially life-threatening medical complications, such as pneumonia. In an average year, influenza is associated with more than 20,000 deaths in the United States and more than 100,000 hospitalizations.

Making it easy for your employees to get vaccinated can go a long way toward keeping them healthy and on the job.

If you haven’t been inclined to encourage or provide flu vaccines for your employees, last year should have convinced you that you should be. With a little planning, you can reduce and perhaps even eliminate absenteeism due to flu this year.

Flu shot clinics typically are available in drugstores, supermarkets and even gas stations, but the best way for an employer to maximize employee participation is to contract with a health care provider to offer immunizations on site.

For the past half dozen years, Precision Machine Works in Tacoma has offered flu shots free for its employees and at minimal cost to members of their families. Human resources administrator Joyce Walsh says the on-site arrangement is very convenient for employees, who sign up in advance so she knows how many doses to order.

About 60 percent of the company’s 175 employees participate each year, she says. She is convinced the shots are responsible for the decrease in absenteeism during flu season during the past decade. Before the program was implemented, she says, flu inevitably made its rounds through the company’s shop and offices. Now, flu season comes and goes with no major disruption.

Like Precision Machine Works, many employers provide shots free to their employees, while others some share the cost using payroll deductions.

Do your employees a favor this year. Help them stay healthy, and working, by making it easy for them to avoid the flu.

By Dr. Kirk T. Haromn, medical director, Franciscan Occupational Health and Port Clinic.