Safe Facilities Management Strategies for Reopening Offices in a COVID-19 Environment

In a world disrupted by COVID-19 and eager to establish a new normal, some areas of the country are beginning to reopen their office doors. The threat of the virus is not past us, but with safe facilities management strategies you can significantly reduce the risk for your employees.

There are many considerations when it comes to your building such as procedures, ventilation, disinfectants and UV lights. When applying various strategies, it is important to remember that every building is different and one design will not fit every situation. For instance, differences in HVAC systems, geography and occupancy loads mean that what works for one office environment may not benefit yours. Consider the following return-to-work concepts as possible strategies for increasing safety amidst COVID-19.

Increased Cleaning Strategies

Frequent cleaning is easy to implement. Increase your supply of sanitizing supplies and clean common touch points (elevators, copy machines, door handles, etc.) several times daily.

Deep cleaning should be implemented regularly. Review leases and update your facility maintenance contracts to include these enhanced services. Also consider periodic fine mist/fogging with anti-microbial germicide solutions.

Safely handle packages by designating sterilization spaces for incoming mail where UV sterilization is used. UV deteriorates certain materials and finishes, so materials in the surrounding space should be UV resistant.

Use UV light for disinfection in bathrooms. Again, confirm surfaces and materials in the bathrooms are UV resistant. Shield or protect non-resistant surfaces.

Social Behaviors and Procedures

Social distancing should be continued at work. Consider shifting work schedules to different hours or different days so employees are not concentrated in the office at one set time.

Go digital, if possible. The recent stay-at-home orders taught many of us how to work from home and implement the necessary technology. Here at Tetra Tech, our environmental compliance experts even now offer their training programs entirely online, with benefits added rather than value lost. Evaluate your company’s performance during the stay-at-home orders, and, if appropriate, implement a flexible work-from-home policy.

Implement screening protocols for all people entering the building. Use an infrared camera to screen for elevated body temperatures. Use caution when selecting an infrared camera, as some cameras have accuracy ranges of +/-3.6 degrees; this means a person at 98.7 degrees could register at 102.3 degrees. Someone that registers an elevated body temperature should be marked for additional screening. Also keep environmental conditions in mind, as someone coming in from a hot climate could register a higher than normal temperature. Use high-quality equipment and be aware of environmental effects.

New office protocols such as new ways to circulate the office and limiting elevator use can help employees continue social distancing. Implementing a clean desk policy can help keep the workplace more sanitary.

Keep your employees educated about safe strategies by strategically placing posters about hand washing, touching your face and social distancing around the workplace. To help with hand washing, provide periodic reminders and adjust automatic faucets to run for 20 seconds (or add an adjacent LED light to illuminate for 20 seconds).

Enhanced HVAC Systems

Schedule periodic commissioning to validate systems, controls, actuators, damper linkages, drip pans and belts are all working as intended can keep your systems running effectively.

Clean HVAC ductwork and air filters more frequently. Consider installing a pressure differential monitor across filters to signify when filters need to be changed.

Increase outdoor air, disable demand-controlled ventilation and extend hours of operation. Before increasing outdoor air, understand your system’s heating and cooling capacities with regards to your geographic location. Higher percentages of outdoor air in hot or cold climates may not be achievable at certain times of the year. Confirm that when your control system calls for 100% outside air, the proper dampers are open. If system controls are updated, make sure they are capable of being returned to economized operation once the health risk is gone.

Improve filtration by using HEPA filters, Bi-Polar Ionization, UV light sanitation or carbon filters. Understand existing system capacities, as HEPA filters have a high pressure drop that will strain motors and reduce airflow. The level of ionization and UV equipment is also highly dependent on the velocity and volume of the airflow.

Control humidification by installing humidification or de-humidification systems. If sensitive equipment is in the building, maintain humidity levels around sensitive equipment to manufacturer recommended levels.

Increase restroom exhaust. If your building is on a central exhaust, you may be able to adjust pully systems or change out a fan. If bathrooms are exhausted by separate fans, each fan may need to be changed. If you increase the exhaust in bathrooms and traps are not primed with water, exhaust may be pulled through the sanitary lines, possibly transmitting the virus. Keep traps primed, as your tenants will notice if they are not.

Physical Environment Design Concepts

Install touchless technologies for copiers, elevators, doors, lighting, HVAC and even window shading. Look at app-based vending for snacks and coffee, elevator call systems and printing systems.

Consider architectural designs such as planned spaces for social distancing in kitchens, workspaces, entryways and conference rooms.

Install antimicrobial materials or materials that can be cleaned and misted. Install entryway mats that are treated with disinfectants and can be cleaned easily. Antimicrobial surface protectors can be used on porous surfaces, which are more cost-effective than replacing porous material.

Concepts for returning to offices safely will need to be implemented differently at each facility and will provide a varying level of benefit. As new building designs or renovations are implemented, these concepts, along with long-term energy efficacy, will need to be considered.

Tetra Tech’s High Performance Building Group is available to discuss implementing possible concepts into future projects or into ideas of retrofitting existing facilities. To learn more, contact us at [email protected].


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