What are employers doing to prevent the spread of the virus?
By: Andrius Lazauskas, Director, Surbiton Glass
With COVID-19 restrictions easing across the country, employees are gradually returning to the office after periods of homeworking or furlough. This means that the pressure is on for businesses to adapt their workplaces and ensure safe working for all their staff. As well as increasing the frequency of cleaning and encouraging regular hand washing, many companies are adapting the layouts of their office spaces to make social distancing easier and limit the spread of the virus.
Designing a safe office layout
Designing a safe office layout is top of mind for employers as they look to restrict the spread of the COVID-19 in the workplace. One of the ways they are adapting offices is reconfiguring desks so that there are at least two metres between employees. Ideally, the configuration should support either back to back or side to side working whenever possible.
Shared areas such as kitchens and meeting rooms should be redesigned to incorporate appropriate distancing measures, including signage and floor markers to help remind staff to keep a safe distance apart. Many employers are considering shift patterns or even part-remote working to reduce the total number of staff in an office at one time.
Installing frameless glass wall partitions
Frameless wall partitions are fast becoming a popular addition to offices across the country. They provide an effective way of breaking up a shared workplace, ensuring that staff have a separate area to work in safely. This can make social distancing easier and help prevent the COVID-19 virus from spreading. Glass walls installed between employee’s desks serve as a barrier to contaminated droplets, making it less likely that transmission will occur.
Aside from the obvious benefits of frameless glass partitions for restricting the spread of the virus, they also come with visual advantages. They can bring some serious style to an office thanks to their sleek and elegant appearance.
Moreover, glass partitions can also maximise the amount of natural light in a workspace, creating a very bright and airy space. Natural daylight can dramatically improve the look and feel of an office, making it a much more pleasant space for employees to spend time. As well as boosting employee mood, they can also dramatically improve productivity levels.
Optimising HVAC systems
Ventilation introduces fresh air into indoor spaces whilst removing stale air, making it crucial for eliminating contaminated particles and preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, some HVAC systems have been shown to spread a virus across rooms due to high-speed airflows. This has led many employers to upgrade or modify their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems so that they are as safe and effective as possible.
One step that they might take is to configure ducted HVAC systems to increase the rate of exchange with fresh air from outside to reduce recirculation. They might also adjust the settings so that instead of shutting it down overnight or at the weekends, the HVAC system could continue operating uninterrupted to enhance the replacement of air within the office.
In offices with older or inflexible HVAC systems, employers might choose to upgrade the hardware. For example, they may replace fixed-speed fan motors with those with variable speeds. This can improve the control of airflow, allowing for the production of lower speeds that are less likely to cause the spread of infected particles. The best HVAC systems have sophisticated airflow controls, including those that are sensitive to pressure and allow for the smoother adjustment of airflows.
Adopting enhanced cleaning regimes
Needless to say, enhanced cleaning is essential in offices during the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers are adopting stringent cleaning procedures to limit the transmission of the virus. As well as increasing the frequency and thoroughness of cleaning, they’re also ensuring they clean surfaces they don’t normally clean. Employers should carry out a risk assessment to determine what cleaning regime is suitable for their workplace.
Enhanced cleaning often involves cleaning work areas and equipment between uses and cleaning, and disinfecting surfaces and objects that are touched regularly. Employees are often encouraged to clear their workstations at the end of the day to make cleaning easier.
Removing absorbent furniture and fabrics
In many offices, absorbent furniture and fabrics are being removed due to the difficulty of keeping them clean and hygienic. They are frequently being replaced with those that are functional and easy to wipe down. Chairs and couches with upholstery can easily collect germs in the seams, cracks, and creases, helping the virus to spread. However, those constructed from natural materials like wood are far easier to keep clean, requiring less maintenance to keep them germ-free.
Employers have a duty to protect people from harm whilst on their premises. This includes taking reasonable steps to protect workers and others from COVID-19. Adapting the office for safe working during the pandemic is vital for businesses, with many taking steps ranging from carrying out enhanced cleaning to installing frameless glass wall partitions.