Demand for open collaborative atmosphere inside workplaces has grown over last few years and we have witnessed offices filling in more employees into smaller spaces. The coronavirus (COVID-19) has disrupted the way people are going to work globally. More and more organisations are enacting remote working directives to ensure the safety and well-being of employees.
As things stabilise from the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, organisations are beginning to bring workers back into the physical workplace. Safety of employees, productivity gain (or loss), space and time optimisation, adherence to government policies are some of the few things organisations will have to think about.
How COVID-19 can spread inside your workplace
COVID-19 spreads mainly by droplets produced as a result of coughing or sneezing of a COVID-19 infected person. This can spread inside your workplace majorly in three ways —
Person to person transmission
Surface to person transmission
Airborne viral transmission
Larger droplets with viral content deposit close to the emission point (droplet transmission), while smaller can travel meters or tens of meters long distances in the air indoors (aerosol transmission) — Lidia Morawska
Hand washing and maintaining social distance are the main measures recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to avoid contracting COVID-19. Unfortunately, these measures do not prevent infection by inhalation of small droplets exhaled by an infected person that can travel distance of meters or tens of meters in the air and carry their viral content, especially in indoor spaces with controlled air conditioning.
Parameters to ensure safety and wellbeing at workplaces
Promote clean contact and disinfection
Improve air quality
Mitigate risk and create organisational rigidity
Strengthen immune systems — Mental and Physical
Organisations should adapt infection control strategies based on a thorough hazard assessment, using appropriate combinations of engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices to prevent employee exposures.
Promote Clean Contact and Disinfection
COVID-19 is spread primarily through close contact with an infected person via respiratory droplets. Some research suggests that the virus can remain airborne for up to three hours and on some surfaces for up to 72 hours. Maintaining good cleaning protocols and hand-washing habits can support individual by helping reduce the chance of infection. Soap has been found to be more effective than hand sanitiser in community settings, though hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol by volume can also be used.
Hand-washing — Washing hands regularly and thoroughly helps to reduce and remove potentially harmful bacteria and viruses. Simple initiatives such as reminders near sinks and basins that encourage workers to wash, dry, and sanitise their hands, while discouraging the use of smartphones in the washroom, can make a difference.
Cleaning Products & Protocol — Implement a rigorous cleaning protocol that addresses high-touch surfaces, provide annual trainings, maintain cleaning logs and restrict use of hazardous or harmful ingredients in cleaning, disinfection and sanitisation products.
Improve Air Quality
Air stagnation may concentrate airborne viruses or dust, so it is critical to keep indoor air as refreshed as possible. Research has shown that increased ventilation in a building can reduce the chance of influenza; ensuring even minimum levels of outdoor air ventilation can reduce influenza transmission significantly inside close indoors.
Improper treatment can build up mold and particulates that can propagate respiratory diseases, especially after periods of inactivity. There is also evidence that humidity can play a role in the survival of viruses such as COVID-19. As such, maintaining relative humidity between 40% and 60% may help to limit the spread and survival of COVID-19. Organisations should weigh the effectiveness and complexity of humidification systems against other air purification strategies.
Ventilation Effectiveness — Bring in fresh air from the outside through mechanical and/or natural means to dilute human and product-generated air pollutants.
Enhanced Ventilation — Implement advanced ventilation strategies such as increased outdoor air supply, demand-control ventilation, displacement ventilation and advanced air distribution that can enhance air quality.
Air Purification — Implement adequate air filtration and document a maintenance protocol for installed filters.
Moisture Management — Implement design strategies to limit moisture accumulation and the potential of mold growth from water infiltration and condensation within buildings.
Manage risk and create organisational rigidity
Emergency preparedness planning is a risk management approach that enables rapid response. Organisations should regularly re-evaluate their emergency preparedness plans; adaptability and flexibility are essential components of preparedness and recovery.
Emergency Preparedness — Develop an emergency management plan and supporting resources.
Enhanced Occupant Survey — Collect and respond to in-depth feedback from building users on their comfort, satisfaction, behaviour, health and other robust factors related to their well-being, both before and during occupancy.
Strengthen immune systems — Mental and Physical
COVID-19 is predicted to have lasting physical and mental health impacts.18 Providing individuals with access to health-promotion strategies, education and resources can help them to cultivate healthy habits and resilience in response to physical and mental health stressors. A healthy immune system helps the body fight infections and reduces co-morbidities that are associated with a greater risk for infection.
Mental Health Support — Increase availability of and access to mental health support services and care.
Health Promotion — Cultivate a culture of health through various health promotion strategies, including regular communications, stakeholder involvement and health risk assessments.
Drinking Water Promotion- Promote hydration by making high-quality drinking water readily available.
Physical Activity Opportunities — Provide complimentary physical activity opportunities led by qualified professionals.
Access to Nature — Incorporate nature into the design of interior and exterior spaces by integrating plants, water, light and views, as well as natural materials, patterns, colours or images.
It is highly important that we open up the economy, but it needs to be done in a way that protects the health of employees, customers and public. It is important to remember that the virus is not gone. We have reached to this stage because of the measures and improvements we have done to control its spread. At this point in time, we have to very cautious and have proper controls in place. Phased return to the workplaces while creating a safe and healthy environment should be the way forward.