After frequent changes in CDC and public health guidelines for businesses, many organizations had found ways to remain open during the extent of the pandemic. With COVID-19 beginning to subside, workplaces have revamped their operations and cleaning procedures to provide their workers with safe indoor environments continuously. Facility managers have employed air filtration and infectious disease prevention strategies to achieve healthier workplace environments. Such methods included the deployment of hand hygiene stations, accessible disinfectant supplies, air purifiers, plexiglass barriers (sneeze guards), temperature checking stations, on-hand N-95 face masks, and UV-C disinfection systems.
Each business and workplace has unique indoor environmental qualities such as building design, occupancy, facility usage, and disparate heating and cooling systems. Most companies operating in older buildings have facilities that lack the necessary sustainability and indoor environmental quality considerations. As a result, facility managers are forced to get creative when seeking appropriate solutions, upgrades, and retrofits to modernize the amenities in these workplaces. To help consolidate these unique organizational factors, our team of solutions experts has created a summarized brake down on what office building facility managers should now consider.
Corporate offices and office buildings have redefined their function to companies in correlation with new hybrid work and work-from-home models. Most companies have redesigned their office spaces to serve a rotation of employees and usage of collaborative workspaces. Once dedicated, cubicles, desks, and workstations are now a part of the "hot-desking" model. In which multiple employees switch between available workstations depending on their in-person schedule and office availability. Corporations seeking to bring back an in-person work element are now repurposing former dedicated offices into spaces designed to support specific on-site interactions.
With these new functions, Facility Managers will need to factor in frequent disinfection and cleaning practices. Since most office spaces, including desks, will become greatly shared between employees, it's critical to ensure that each area is thoroughly disinfected between worker rotations and usage. Facility Managers will also need to factor in potential higher risks for aerosol viral and pathogen transmission within collaborative workspaces. Collaborative spaces such as conference rooms will need additional air filtration and air ventilation to reduce airborne contaminant concentration levels.
For offices, indoor environmental quality (IEQ) refers to the building's overall indoor environment, including air, lighting, temperature, and occupant well-being. While numerous contributors can affect an office's IEQ, indoor air quality and facility cleanliness play the most prominent role. Read on to learn why these factors affect an office's IEQ and what improvement actions you can take as a facility manager.
Our indoor environments have chronically poor air quality. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air quality has on average 2 to 5 times higher concentrations of airborne pollutants compared to the outdoors. Inside office buildings, airborne pollutants commonly found include; viruses, bacteria, mold, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter (PM), and carbon monoxide. Most airborne contaminants are introduced by building occupants (employees), indoor space functions (kitchens and breakrooms), or materials used to furnish offices.
However, most office buildings were not designed with indoor air quality in mind. For example, there are minimal egress points or openable windows in large office buildings to introduce fresh air. Therefore, facility managers are faced with only relying on existing HVAC systems to circulate air, distribute fresh air adequately, and exhaust spent air from the building. To reduce employee exposure to airborne pollutants and pathogens, facility managers can take multiple actions to improve indoor air quality and IEQ. The first action would be upgrading existing HVAC systems to provide improved building-wide air filtration.
Referencing new guidance from public health organizations, offices should update their HVAC filters to higher-rated MERV 13. To complement existing HVAC air filtration, induct or inline air purifiers can also be installed. These electronic air cleaning systems use UVGI, hydroxyl generation, or negative ionization technology to provide building-wide air purification. The second action to take would be to implement portable HEPA air purifiers in high-traffic or enclosed spaces. With the unique design offices, portable air purifiers are versatile solutions to provide local air exchanges and high-quality air filtration.
Amongst all IEQ improvements, cleaning your facility is the base requirement. Offices with existing cleaning practices have dedicated cleaning crews to wipe down high-touch point surfaces, vacuum floors, and eliminate cumulating dust. With heightened protocols from the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have switched to higher quality disinfectants and increased cleaning regiments. Some businesses have even invested in electrostatic sprayers to apply long-lasting disinfectant chemicals to surfaces.
However, when your goal as a facility manager is to ensure employee health and improve IEQ, why not consider a chemical-free solution to disinfection? With UV-C systems, safe hospital-grade disinfection can be applied to all surfaces without introducing harsh chemicals or multi-purpose disinfectants into the environment. UV-C disinfection systems are also "tried and true" methods recommended by public health agencies for reducing the presence of pathogens and viruses on surfaces.
When implementing UV-C disinfection, air purification, or new cleaning practices, a common fear is how to fit it in with existing cleaning schedules and protocols. Luckily both UV-C systems and air purifiers are designed with ease of use and operation in mind. For offices with air purifiers, indoor air quality improvements are best achieved by running the air cleaners 24/7.
Once set to the best fan speed for optimal noise levels and CFM airflow, air purifiers can continuously clean and filter the surrounding air. However, it's best practice to frequently check the air purifiers for filter conditions and see if employees have altered the controls. When cleaning crews complete their tasks, it's recommended that the staff check each air purifier to ensure they haven't been turned off, rendering the air purifiers ineffective.
More schedule considerations are needed to implement UV-C disinfection systems into existing cleaning schedules and practices. UV-C systems are offered in various commercial solutions such as stand-alone UV-C lamps and autonomous UV-C robots. Both UV-C disinfection systems require minimal training and operational knowledge to use.
Facility managers will need to determine their dedicated UV-C system operators to ensure the disinfection process is completed safely and effectively. With UV-C disinfection robots, the sanitation process can also be automated to reduce demands on staff time usage. UV-C robots use autonomous software, advanced sensors, and safety systems to automatically navigate through indoor spaces and run disinfection cycles.
To provide further insights into how facility managers can implement air purification and UV-C disinfection into existing cleaning protocols. Sanalife's team of solution experts have created an example cleaning and disinfection schedule for offices preparing for the post-COVID workplace.
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