by Jason Costello and Janet Morra
Entering the office post-quarantine will be like entering the hospital – workers will be admitted only after they are determined to be fever and symptom free. Once inside, they will avoid contamination, touching as few surfaces as possible, staying six feet apart from others, and making sure their personal space is kept as clean and disinfected as possible. There is a lot we have learned in designing healthcare facilities which can now be leveraged to create a workplace that lowers the risk of infection.
Our firm recently conducted a survey and respondents reported that they were most concerned about:
- Safety within common spaces (80%)
- Social distancing within meeting and collaboration spaces (70%)
- Cleanliness of the work environment (68%)
- Interactions with the public, visitors, and vendors (66%)
- Density of their workspace (60%)
Some of these fears can be addressed by employers by reducing the number of people physically in the office, staggering hours, requiring masks for all workers, closing common areas like the kitchen, and requiring food be brought from home or delivered. However, there are additional steps companies can take to prepare for returning employees.
COVID-19 has put infection control at the forefront of the conversation. Using a common hospital Infection Control Risk Assessment (ICRA) tool, we can create a process to evaluate the workplace. This allows for a customized solution based on the risks unique to each workplace, providing for long-term flexibility to adapt as new information becomes available.
Hand hygiene has been at the forefront of fighting hospital acquired infections and compliance with written hand washing policies remaining top of the list for preventing the spread of infections in hospitals. We’re seeing this roll out in employer and state mandated guidelines for return to work with requirements for access to hand sanitizer. Moving forward, we anticipate strategically placed hand sanitizing stations throughout the workplace; the installation of hands-free sinks, toilets, and urinals; and voice-controlled elevators. Where existing touchpoints cannot be readily made hands-free, installing antimicrobial surfaces can reduce the risk of infection. New films embedded with silver nano particles applied to high-touch surfaces have been shown effective in eliminating viruses. Building owners and tenants can establish cleaning regimens that mirror hospital protocols, including hiring an experienced cleaning company to regularly deep clean, sanitizing everyday office equipment like copiers and printers, and wiping door handles and other high-touch surfaces on a regular basis.
In addition to reducing the number of seats to encourage the recommended six feet for physical distancing, we can also provide furniture in public areas such as lobbies, waiting areas, and gathering spaces that is easy to clean to minimize infection risk. Recommendations include specifying high-performance upholstery fabrics that are bleach cleanable, anti-microbial, and moisture proof and seating with narrow legs and open space below the seat to allow for ease of floor cleaning.
Ultraviolet (UV) light, specifically UV germicidal irradiation (UVGI), is effective at inactivating viruses and killing microbial bacteria, two common sources of disease and infection. UVGI systems can focus on treating the air or surfaces, and their effectiveness is a function of exposure time and the intensity of the dose. These are engineered systems and should be designed and commissioned to confirm their appropriate functionality and efficacy. New UV lighting utilizing a Far-UV wavelength spectrum is considered safe for human exposure and could provide a continuous cleaning effect for occupied spaces. UV is most effective when combined with a thorough cleaning regimen.
Even with all these measures in place, people will remain anxious about returning to work until effective treatments or a vaccine are widely available. In the meantime, developers, architects, and engineers can design post-COVID buildings based on what they’ve learned from the healthcare industry that will reduce risk of infection and boost employee health and wellness.
Jason Costello, AIA, EDAC is a partner and associate principal and Janet Morra, AIA, LEED AP is a partner and principal at Margulies Perruzzi.