By now, you’ve likely heard ad nauseum the things you can do to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Chief among them is hand washing, wearing a mask, maintaining six feet of physical distance, increasing outside air in HVAC systems, and disinfecting surfaces. As employees plan their return to the physical office, employers have to work these, and other related protocols, into their return-to-work plans. Based on our desire to create safe and functional workplaces, we offer this guidance.

Surface Selection & Cleanability

While you may think that wipeable, non-porous, smooth surfaces are the optimal choice controlling the spread of the coronavirus, science has proven otherwise. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at how long CoV-1 (the original SARS virus and cousin to COVID-19) and CoV-2 (aka COVID-19) lasted on various surfaces. Both viruses decayed the fastest on a fibrous material. Scientists theorize fibers and absorbent materials cause viruses to dry, making them inactive. If a virus can’t stay active long enough to find a host, it can’t replicate, so spread is mitigated.

Based on this, there’s likely no need to replace your carpet, fabric wall panels or dividers, or fabric furniture. What you will need to consider, for all your surfaces, are the methods and schedules for cleaning and disinfecting. If cleaned and/or disinfected improperly, surfaces will wear faster or could become damaged. Durability also plays a factor here, so make note of any pieces or surfaces that could use an upgrade. Our team of experts can make recommendations for and help procure appropriate replacements.

It’s important to know that there is a difference between cleaning and disinfecting. If you haven’t already read it, check out the guidance from the CDC, which covers both. Then, engage your facilities team to create a plan. During initial conversations, discuss any items that can be moved or stored to simplify cleaning and disinfecting. From there, set a schedule, and source the necessary supplies.

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) Requirements

Most employers are required or will choose, to provide their employees with PPE. The kind of PPE depends on each employee’s position and potential exposure. The most common is surgical masks, but gloves, gowns, and more may also need to be provided. Education and how and when to enforce mask-wearing (and any other PPE), also fall on the employers’ shoulders. Signage stating the PPE requirements for entering and interacting with your workplace is also helpful and may be required.

Other Safety & Protection Measures

Encourage Good Hygiene

This includes avoiding touching the face, frequent hand washing and using antibacterial hand sanitizers. To support the increase in handwashing and social distancing protocols, consider adding more sinks. When well-designed and well-thought-out, additional sinks can encourage their use. Appropriate placement of hand sanitizing stations can also improve their adoption. For help with either, contact us.

Consider Conducting Health Screenings

Before an employee enters the building, it’s recommended that a health screening be completed, either virtually or in-person. This can be a symptom check, temperature check, or both. We know that asymptomatic carriers will look and feel healthy and likely pass any temperature or symptom check. Just think of health screenings as one of many ways to help mitigate virus spread. Any health check needs to be conducted in accordance with your state and local public health mandates, plus the EEOC requirements for protecting an employee’s medical records.

Create a Communications Plan

The more your employees know what to expect, and the more informed they are, the better equipped and more confident they will be with re-engaging the workplace. Map out what should be communicated and by who. Include a way for employees to submit questions and get answers. Also, define how you’ll share a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.

Put Our Experience to Work for You

We understand you likely have a lot on your plate right now. We’ve executed our own return to work plan, and are changing and adapting that plan as necessary. Contact us if you’re interested in leveraging our experience to safely and efficiently adapt your workspace to welcome employees back… whenever that may be.

 

This is the third post in our “Re-Engaging the Workplace” series, which looks at strategic ways organizations can safely, responsibly, and supportively bring employees back to the office. Read our first post, “Physical Space Considerations,” and our second post, “Employee Considerations,” and come back next month for another post.