14 October 2020

Getting You Safely Back to Work

By: Sean O’Neill, Vice President, Senior Project Superintendent

It has now been many months since the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has become the driving force in the way we live our lives, both personally and professionally. After months of working remotely, many employers are now wondering when and how it will be safe to go back to the office. Once they do, what protocols will be necessary to safeguard their most valuable asset – their employees?

The answer to this question depends greatly on updates that come from the Federal government as well as the mandates of local jurisdictions. There will likely be several steps employers need to take towards getting their employees safely back to the office, and Clune is here to help our clients through this process every step of the way.

Certain strategies and protocols need to be implemented to help give workers the confidence they need to safely come back into their offices. Consider the following questions:

  • What protocols should be implemented to ensure the health and safety of every employee?
  • How can an employer foster support and confidence among employees about returning to office?
  • What can companies do to provide assurance to employees that they are putting their safety and health first?

What options are available to keep employees safe? Employers may want to consider implementing solutions that are not only for the current situation, but can also address potential future pandemics. The unique needs of every office will ultimately determine the solutions that are necessary.

Clune has been researching and developing a list of possible solutions alongside our partners in the design industry to help our clients return to work in the safest possible manner. These solutions include:

Protective Screens, Signage and Wayfinding: These solutions are the easiest and most cost effective way for employers to quickly mobilize and get their employees back to work. Protective screens are made from Plexiglas or glass and are easy to install, whether it’s at reception desks or between work spaces. Signage to highlight social distancing along with wayfinding are among the most widely-implemented solution in buildings and in offices spaces. Catalog standards are available to assist in choosing the best solutions for the needs of each business. Signage and wayfinding can also be customized to any space, and are all within local government guidelines and the CDC.

Touchless Hardware: Relatively easy to install, automatic door openers can be activated via card readers or automatic door release. There has been an increase in demand and in pricing for this solution over the last few months, and as the need continues to increase, lead times for these products will extend. If an employer decides that this solution fits the needs of their space, Clune recommends that the order is placed as quickly as possible.

Automatic faucets and soap dispensers are also currently in high demand. When swapping existing non-automated devices to automatic, be mindful of the additional maintenance that may be required.

Cleaning, Sanitization and Antimicrobial Surfaces: Antimicrobial surfaces contain an agent, such as copper, that inhibits the ability of microorganisms to grow on the surface of a material. There are many antimicrobial products available on the market today, however, this particular strain of coronavirus has limited testing. If an employer is interested in installing antimicrobial covalent protective coatings and products, research should be done to find out how long a solution takes to activate and kill a virus. What is the amount of time a virus can survive on a surface before it can be killed and rendered harmless? What is the cure time before the space can be occupied again?

While there are many products available on the market today, there is currently no testing completed that substantiates any of the claims that they kill the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. When choosing a cleaning and sanitation product, one should review what products are acceptable for use in the interior space, and which might be harmful to the office’s finishes, or might affect your product/material warranties.

Infrared Cameras for Temperature Screening: To ensure that employees feel comfortable returning to work, temperature checks can be implemented in addition to space planning and social distancing protocols. The quickest solution on the market, and the most cost effective product for mass temperature checks is infrared cameras. However, Clune’s research shows that there is minimal government oversight on infrared cameras and the FDA recently relaxed restrictions on infrared cameras for commercial environments. Although there are FDA-approved cameras on the market, they are much more costly and are typically used for medical facilities. There are several types of infrared cameras and temperature-screening products that can be standalone systems or that can tie into an office’s existing security system.

HVAC: Humidification and Bi-polar Ionization: These products have been available for quite some time, and there is empirical evidence that these solutions contribute to improved indoor air quality. When retrofitting into a facility’s existing HVAC system, it is important to be mindful of system limitations, as well as the installation cost for an average office space. There are also stand-alone pieces of HVAC equipment available that help improve an office’s air quality. We have seen clients increase their HVAC maintenance from quarterly to either bi-weekly or monthly and adjusting their existing HVAC systems within existing parameters, such as replacing filters with MER 15 or higher, cleaning coils and strainers, and even cleaning inside ductwork to optimize their existing systems.

Ultra Violet (UV) Lighting: In recent years, UV lighting use has increased in medical facilities and we are also seeing its use increase in commercial settings. There are many UV lighting options available, but the cost should be weighed against the benefits. UV lighting is commonly utilized in high traffic areas such as pantries or cafeterias.

It is important for employers to be proactive about getting their employees back to work, but returning to life as it was before COVID-19 is still in the distant future. For now, employers should follow CDC and local government guidelines for returning to the office. Clune is available to recommend solutions that will help navigate these unprecedented times.

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