Returning to work safely

25th June 2020

With further lockdown restrictions set to ease on the 4th July, many more people are now returning to work. To make this transition as smooth as possible, feeling safe in the work environment is key to the success of the ‘new normal’.

There are many things to consider – social distancing, increased cleanliness, potential to reduce a site’s capacity, PPE requirements and the behind the scenes building services that can contribute to both safer and more efficient spaces.

Here are just some of the things employers and FMs need consider when opening the doors to returning staff:

PPE:

Whether 1 or 2 metres, it’s been advised that if you can’t keep your distance, you should wear a face mask. This is particularly true in enclosed workspaces and is mandatory on public transport – it is safest to be outside or at least in a well ventilated area. Some businesses, such as pubs and hairdressers, will require staff to wear face masks.

If PPE is a feature of your businesses return to work, there must be provision to dispose of this safely, which may lead to an increase in building waste. Waste in general needs consideration, single use items, such as disposable cups, could carry the virus, so must be removed safely.

Cleaning:

Nearly all workspaces will need extra cleaning, particularly in high touch areas. Staff must also be reminded of regular hand washing and keeping workspaces clean.

Social distancing:

A key part of preventing the spread of COVID 19 is keeping people away from each other, which may have a significant impact on the way a workspace is laid out and the number of people that can safely work within that space. Many businesses will have to reduce capacity.

Occupancy and usage plans may have to be drawn up, with rooms redesigned or repurposed in some cases. The working day may also have to reviewed – shifts or part time hours could be required, to ensure buildings don’t become too crowded.

Employee education:

We should all know by now the most publicised symptoms of COVID 19, but a reminder of these and some of the more unusual symptoms (such as loss of smell and taste) is useful to everyone working within your building. People must be urged to stay at home and get tested should they display any symptoms of COVID 19.

It is always better to be safe than sorry.

As mentioned, a reminder about washing hands, cleaning workspaces, social distancing and face mask etiquette is also key.

Building services:

While often behind the scenes, building services will have an impact on your businesses ability to return to work safely. For example, good ventilation is one of the key ways to prevent the spread of COVID 19 internally, so all air movement equipment must be checked and maintained where necessary. There are also some filters that remove airborne viruses. Ducts, coils and associated plant should be kept clean.

While not directly related to COVID 19, when it comes to water systems, before a building opens, drinking water must be tested to ensure it’s potable and legionella risk assessments must be up to date. Buildings that have been dormant for a long period are at a greater risk of legionella proliferation, due to the increased potential for stagnant water; an issue which is exacerbated in the heat.

Throughout lockdown, legionella prevention was considered an essential service, and FMs and maintenance teams should have kept up testing, servicing and flushing regimes. It’s important to note that flushing alone shouldn’t be relied on as the sole means of preventing legionella.

Everyone’s focus has firmly been on Coronavirus so you could be forgiven for forgetting the other risks at play – a Legionnaire’s Disease outbreak is not something any business wants to deal with as they try to get back on their feet.

Overall, ensuring HVAC equipment is working well and efficiently will prevent expensive repairs and breakdowns that could lead to downtime. With much of the UK’s economy suffering a knock from the pandemic, excess costs are something we could all do with avoiding.

We have been helping buildings keep legionella free during lockdown, for more information, click here.