How do I manage my workplace – during COVID-19?‎

The World Health Organisation and Centre for Communicable Disease have developed good guidelines on Coronavirus (COVID-19) and what to do to avoid spreading it. As Lockdowns end, it is important to draw on these to prepare and manage workplaces for employees who return to work.

The main way the virus is thought to spread is from person-to-person. When an infected person coughs or sneezes respiratory droplets are produced. These airborne droplets can be inhaled by people nearby. This happens when people are close together. Under experimental conditions, the virus has been found to remain viable in the air for three hours.

Infections are also thought to happen when droplets land on surfaces which are then touched by people who infect themselves by touching their mouth and nose. It is thought the virus can survive 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces and up to 1 day on porous surfaces such as cardboard. Given these methods of infection, how can the spread be reduced in and around buildings?

Personal habits

The most effective way of reducing the spread is by changing personal habits.  Washing hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds, or if this is not available using an alcohol-based hand rub, kills and removes viruses that may be on your hands. Maintaining a physical distance from other people of at least 1.5 metre also helps reduce the likelihood of inhaling droplets.

Reduce the need to visit buildings

Using the internet and telephones to deliver services reduces the need to visit buildings. Many government and private sector services can be delivered through well-designed interactive websites and free-call telephone services. This reduces the need for people to visit buildings and interact with people in the building or on the way there, reducing the risk of infection.

Travelling to and from buildings

 Walking, cycling, using a motorbike, or lifts and carpools with no more than 2 people can be used to travel to buildings in a way that limits exposure to other people. If public transport has to be used, travelling at non-peak times and maintaining a distance of 1.5m away from the next person can be used to reduce the risk of infection. 

Entrances

Leaving front doors open or having automatic doors reduces the need to touch door handles. Avoiding sign-in books and access control procedures that require surfaces to be touched reduces the need to touch surfaces which may have the virus on them. Making provision for people to wash their hands or use a hand sanitiser near the entrance helps to reduce the risk that people bring the virus into the building. 

Reception and waiting areas

Marking the floor 1.5m away from the receptionist and providing signage can help to ensure that people maintain a safe distance from the receptionist while interacting with them.  Within waiting areas, numbers of people should be limited and arrangements made to ensure that they wait at least 1.5m apart. Over flows should be catered through seating outside or in other space that is also at least 1.5 m apart.

Work and workspaces

Where it is possible and safe, employees should be encouraged to work from home. If this is not possible, spaces, and furniture and equipment layouts should be rearranged to maintain 1.5m between people. As much ventilation as possible should be provided by opening windows and doors. Air conditioners should be set to maximise the circulation of external fresh air and the recirculation of air should be avoided. Good ventilation dilutes the concentrations of airborne droplets and can help reduce infections.

Meetings and meeting spaces

Where possible, physical meetings should be avoided and replaced with teleconferences, Skype, Hangout, Zoom or similar virtual meetings. If physical meetings are necessary, participants should be limited and a space of at least 1.5m between people should be maintained. Walking meetings, where participants discuss issues while maintaining a safe distance apart, is also a possibility. These measures help to reduce infections by reducing physical proximity as well as through the dilution effect of being in the open air. 

Bathrooms

Bathrooms should have soap and working wash-hand basins. Signage should be provided that shows how hands can be washed thoroughly, including indicating this should take at least 20 seconds.  A schedule should be put in place to ensure that surfaces such as door handles, taps, locks and flush handles are cleaned regularly. This helps to ensure hands and surfaces are clean to reduce the risk of infection.

Surfaces

There are many surfaces in buildings like counters, stair rails, light and lift switches and shared equipment such as telephones and keyboards that are touched constantly. These should be cleaned regularly to reduce the risk of these having viruses on them which are passed between people.

Cleaning

Standard cleaning and disinfecting practices are sufficient to remove or kill the Coronavirus. Therefore, all surfaces that are touched regularly should be cleaned. Household cleaners and disinfectants that are appropriate for the surface can be used. Instructions on the labels should be followed.  Gloves should be worn and there should be good ventilation during cleaning.  Cleaning should be regular and will vary depending on the amount of traffic and use.

These measures will help building users, building owners and facilities managers make their building safer and reduce the risk of built environments causing infections.

Further information can be accessed from here:

World Health Organisation

Centre for Communicable Disease

A copy of a presentation on this article is available here.