The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our personal and professional lives in ways we may not fully realize for weeks, months, perhaps even years. As businesses start to reopen around the country, developing a successful reopening plan is critical. This requires thoughtful consideration as any plan for reopening buildings needs to put occupant safety first. There are also factors such as energy and productivity costs, and implementing new guidelines and protocols to consider. Focusing on these challenges helps building and facilities managers create a smooth transition from limited to full occupancy.
Make Health & Wellness a Priority
A big part of developing a successful reopening plan is to ensure the health and wellness of building occupants. This includes not just employees but also visitors to the building or campus. This requires that employees adopt new ways of communicating with each other and with visitors. Employees must also understand new safety and security measures and adjust their behaviors to accommodate them.
Social distancing policies may be necessary for the short- or even long-term. Cleaning and sanitizing HVAC and other mechanical systems, as well as water lines, need completing. Increased decontamination efforts, surface cleaning and disinfecting are a part of the ongoing effort to ensure indoor air quality. Improvements to IAQ helps stop the spread of the coronavirus, Legionella bacteria, and mold and prevents Sick Building Syndrome which makes workers ill and lowers productivity.
One way to ensure wellness in buildings is by using a WELL strategy and implementation plan. The WELL Building Standard is designed to further the advance of health and wellness for building occupants as it relates to design and operating practices. This wellness initiative has never been more valuable than it is now as employees return to work post-shutdown.
Make Buildings Safe & Ready to Reopen
The air quality inside empty buildings is impacted by even short shut down times and more so for buildings that were not closed properly or not maintained while closed. Standing water in water lines makes conditions ripe for waterborne pathogens which also causes illnesses. Before building occupants can return, facilities must be made safe.
A successful reopening provides an opportunity for building and facilities managers to evaluate energy costs and rethink the design of interior spaces to limit close contact between building occupants. Therefore, scheduling cleanings, inspections, and routine maintenance tasks ensure that mechanical systems are fully operational before re-opening. HVAC coil cleaning restores evaporator coils and the interior of air handling units to near-factory conditions which improves IAQ, extends the life of the equipment, and saves energy. Inspection of on-site water, sewage, and waste systems prevents the spread of waterborne bacteria and protects occupants.
Ongoing monitoring of indoor air quality plays an important role in employee safety for a post-pandemic world. Real-time monitoring of conditions in the building environment helps facilities managers view data to address IAQ concerns and keep occupants safe.
Implementing Guidelines & Adjusting Space
It’s a new world and new guidelines for employee behavior, communication, and traffic flow inside buildings need consideration. This requires mapping high-density areas where employees work and interact with each other and creating new designs to lower this density.
Social distancing guidelines must be implemented as occupants re-enter the workspace. Rescheduling employees to limit close contact may be necessary. Reconfiguring workstations and office furniture helps change traffic patterns and reduce density. Replacing doors and trash cans with no-touch features along with frequent hand washing limits the spread of pathogens. Educating employees on how to share space and equipment safely and observe good respiratory etiquette is key.
The Dangers in Reopening without a Plan
Reopening without a plan to address building safety poses serious risks to building occupants. Any effort towards developing a successful reopening plan must address these issues.
Some of the dangers in reopening are:
- Humidity Issues—Humidity changes along with changes in the heat loads of empty buildings. High humidity leads to the development of mold.
- Waterborne Pathogens—These microorganisms thrive in standing water. Bacteria like Legionella can spread throughout the building through drinking fountains and air conditioning units.
- Cooling Towers—Mist from cooling towers spreads waterborne pathogens throughout buildings.
- Infected Interior Occupied Spaces—High touch surfaces pose the biggest risk, clean and disinfect all surfaces prior to building re-occupancy. This includes HVAC systems.
An HVAC Hygiene Assessment lets building managers gauge the impact of their HVAC system on indoor air quality (IAQ). This is critical for facilities exposed to COVID-19, but is essential for any system as it becomes dirty over time which results in a decrease in performance.
To find out how we help buildings and facilities develop a successful reopening plan after COVID-19 shutdowns, contact Pure Air Control Services today.