Safer Workspace Return Recovery Plan – Q&A

Safer Workspace Recovery Plan QA

Our recent webinar on 3rd June explored what we can do today in order to prepare for a safer workspace return tomorrow.

The Government has made it clear that measures will need to be put into place before organisations consider opening the office doors to their employees. By making simple changes to existing floorplans we can ensure your workspace complies with the new Government regulations outlined here.

Please see below the Q&A summary from the webinar. A number of valid questions were raised which the Woodhouse team have reviewed in great detail and provided the following responses.

How do I undertake a risk assessment – are there accredited third parties that provide this service?
The HSE and ACAS are official bodies that can provide advice along with many third-party risk assessment practices such as Citation and Peninsula. Please note that we are unable to make any recommendations and can only advise.

Where there are “pinch” points in a building such as stairs where you can’t maintain 2m what are your comments on people passing if you can’t make it one way?
This is very site specific. If there are several staircases then you may wish to consider a one direction system. If the staircase is wide enough consider central dividers. Signage and guidance asking users to wait until other staircase users have passed will help.

With hand sanitation stations (hand washing) dotted throughout the workspace, what drying method would you recommend? (can’t have loud dryers in the office for example)
Alcohol-based sanitisation does not require drying. We would recommend paper towel dispensers where water-based handwashing is provided.

Interesting points on the metal suggestions for handles. Are there any other substrates or materials that have good repelling characteristics?
Silver, and then copper, is well recognised for their anti-microbial properties. There is also Bioguard and anti-microbial products that can be incorporated into building elements such as paints, ceiling tiles, fabrics and floor finishes etc.

Any thoughts on UV and misting type deep cleaning systems?
UV de-sanitising can be very effective, especially where there may have been a case of infection.  It is a technical process often best done by a professional company. The process carries a price tag so would probably only be seriously considered where there has been a case of infection and it is critical to put the premises back into operation quickly. In our opinion misting is not as appropriate in office environments.

If you have a small office of 3-6 staff do you still need all of these safety measures?
A risk assessment is a prime necessity which has to be in writing where there are five or more staff. This will help determine the safety measures that are necessary.

Are laminate or engineered floors more hygienic than carpet tiles in this case?
In healthcare establishments, hard floors are generally regarded as more hygienic than soft, as they can be cleaned intensively. However, there are reports of the virus staying active on hard surfaces for several days. There is still a lot that needs to be understood about this virus.

Aircon on or off, best practice?
This is a vast subject and there are many different types of systems with much debate. Our general comments would be:

  • Ventilation systems that bring in fresh air are very important. Situations relying on windows are very second rate, as they allow cold air in during winter and frustrate cooling systems in summer, in addition to the issue of draughts.
  • Systems which recirculate air should be investigated further.
  • Fan coil units do move the air around, which may appear to negate distancing provisions.  Where they are close to groups of people there is more danger than if they are remote.
  • Duct cleaning can be considered.
  • Systems can be disinfected which is often recommended.
  • We would recommend speaking to your systems maintainer and possibly carrying out a validation exercise.

Thoughts on thermal screening? Is it really practical? Does it serve any purpose given the outside chance of a high fever being COVID related and of course those asymptomatic?
Systems are being developed by many companies and may be appropriate in some situations.

The caveats mentioned are very appropriate considering the unlikelihood in most situations of employees coming to work in the middle of a high fever and the fact that people are infectious before they develop a fever or are, indeed, asymptomatic.

If you have office chairs with fabric seats and backs, should these be changed?
In our opinion, from the research we have seen, the fabric may be better than vinyl surfaces. Both can be sprayed with some of the disinfecting systems now available.

What different types of indicator systems for the washrooms are available?
A simple light system can be linked to infra-red detectors to show personnel presence. As it is developed it would require technical expertise to select and determine areas which need to be sensed. Alternatively, touch-free sensors can be used to operate an electromagnetic door control system. This is very situation dependant.

Would copper tape work the same as a copper sleeve? And what did you say the effectiveness of this was regarding the virus?
A copper surface is recognised as effective in controlling pathogens within a, suggested, 4 hour period. COVID-19 is new and little is really known or proven as yet.

If you are abiding by 2m do you need Perspex screens?
From the Government guidance it would appear they are not required. However, if there is consistent face-to-face contact even at 2m, screens are recommended.

Will 1m replace 2m?
The Government is under pressure to reduce the distance. In our opinion, 1.5m is more likely than 1m.

What about introducing touch-free light switches?
Passive infra-red light control is often a very good option.

Is there a solution in here for coats/umbrellas that typically go with the weather we face?
The preference would be for all staff to have personal storage space.  The scientific reasons for the virus spreading is still being investigated, however, we are advised that the virus can live on some surfaces for several days, so personal property should be segregated wherever possible.

Is kitchen towel considered touch-free? Or would this need to be on some sort of dispenser?
Paper towel systems would appear to be acceptable – careful disposal, of course, is essential.

Food or No Food; what is the best practice?
There is no one-size fits all approach. This will depend on staff numbers and facilities available within the workspace. Prepared food would reduce many risks and move the responsibility to third parties.

However, if company staff are actually preparing food for others then it is essential that they have appropriate certification. We recommend a policy of staff packing, wrapping and naming any of their own food and to also refer back to your risk assessment.

Keep an eye on our communications and website for details of our next webinar coming soon!