The proliferation of vaccines to activate our immunity against COVID-19 allows our gradual return to our lives before the pandemic. What this means for companies is an increased allowance to operate with employees reporting physically in the office. But, with this high possibility of us returning to the office comes the question if we’re indeed ready or is our workplace ready?
Everyone’s idea of facility safety has changed forever. When before it leaned more toward structure and cleanliness, we are now more conscious of health risks especially in enclosed spaces as viral pathogens like COVID-19 tend to linger in the air before they land on surfaces. Air quality has dominated our discussions about safety to the point it’s no longer just a seasonal, pollen allergy, dust, or smoke concern.
The past year had us more protective of our vulnerable respiratory systems. Many residences and businesses alike have invested in technologies such as air purifiers and humidifiers, but these are only ever effective if operated within their prescribed square yard coverage. As managers are accountable for their employees’ safety, what is the least that can be done? Here are some ways facilities can maintain a minimum air quality to curb the chances of COVID-19 or any viral matter from entering our systems:
Bring Outdoor Air In
Viruses tend to dissipate in outdoor air, their disintegration exacerbated by external elements like ultraviolet rays from the atmosphere. On the other hand, the air in enclosed spaces only ever circulates within with no allowance to dissolve viral matter and prevent infection among the occupants. Times like these necessitate passages for fresh outdoor air to enter into facilities; it may be in the form of open windows and doors if the external environment warrants safety.
Opening these fixtures, therefore, is not advised if your building is situated somewhere where the air is polluted, say close to the highway teeming with fuel-burning vehicles. To facilitate airflow, it’s also advisable to use electric fans that could push indoor air out.
Air circulation is more crucial in settings wherein entrants are inside for longer durations, regardless if it’s in the office, stores, schools, dining halls, or healthcare facilities. Still, all establishments are urged to limit the number of people staying in every room, impose physical distancing among entrants, and, to further lessen health risks of everyone, require wearing masks. These preemptive measures, although may require a degree of self-restraint and prove to be more uncomfortable than what we’re used to, will work for the wellbeing of everyone.
Purify Indoor Air
Opening windows and doors to serve as vents to bring outdoor air in may not work in every setting. Facilities can instead install highly efficient filters into their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). Measured by their Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) or their ability to trap particles of the smallest sizes, filters rated 5 below used to be standard for non-healthcare establishments but recent events normalize the use of those rated as high as 13, almost the same efficiency in hospital HVAC filters.
A point worth noting is not all HVAC systems are compatible with MERV 13 filters. With this, it’s important to consult your facility’s HVAC contractor on possibly getting licensed for a new HVAC system or being advised on the highest MERV filters for your facility. To facilitate better air circulation, you can also have your HVAC calibrated to take in fresh outdoor air to add to its indoor air filtration functions.
Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI)
Contrary to the common notion that ultraviolet light, in general, is germicidal, there’s a specific UV technology that’s solely capable of doing this and that is ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI). UVGI specifically kills bacteria and deactivates viruses in the air but not pollutants. If incorporated into a facility’s HVAC system, UVGI could intensify air cleaning.
While its installation in vent and filtering units is common practice, caution must be practiced in operating this while indoor space is occupied as exposure to these lights has health risks too. To counter this are control systems that regulate the operation of UVGI units depending on whether the space is vacant or occupied.
Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization (NPBI)
A fairly new technology, needlepoint bi-polar ionization works by generating a field of negative and positive ions that disrupts pathogens including virus particles that this comes into contact with. This electronic combination breaks down these viruses’ live proteins rendering them deactivated. Unlike UV technology, NPBI is operable even while occupants are inside the facility and is proven to effectively disinfect without posing harm to humans.
Those who manage facilities are met with the challenge of applying new approaches to preexisting tools and technologies to uphold general safety. Recent events prove their indispensable role in their organization. Likewise, how proactive they are in enacting safety measures could constitute part of the organization’s transformed strategy because people are equivalent to the business’s productivity.
Indeed, things can never be the same again with all the things we’ve experienced and learned recently. During this time when there’s a lurking invisible threat, providing the best air quality indoors is the least an organization can do. Empowering employees to act in no way that harms their colleagues is another.