CDC offers COVID-19 best practice information for employers in office buildings

CDC’s latest guidance for protecting office workers covers many topics, with tips for commuting employees to suggestions for increasing ventilation.

Posted June 1, 2020

A recent COVID-19 guidance from the CDC addresses workers in office buildings. Office building employers, as well as building owners and managers, can take steps to create a safe and healthy workplace and protect workers and clients.

Before resuming business operations, check the building to see if it’s ready for occupancy.

  • Ensure that ventilation systems operate properly. For HVAC systems that have been shut down, review new construction start-up guidance provided in ASHRAE Standard 180-2018, Standard Practice for the Inspection and Maintenance of Commercial Building HVAC Systems.
  • Increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors, using fans, and other methods (unless this would allow outdoor contaminants into the building such as carbon monoxide, molds, or pollen).
  • Check for hazards associated with prolonged facility shutdown such as mold growth, rodents or pests, or issues with stagnant water systems, and take appropriate remedial actions.

Identify where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work. In particular, identify areas where employees could have close contact (within six feet) with others such as meeting rooms, break rooms, cafeterias, check-in areas, and waiting areas. Evaluate potential engineering and administrative controls.

Engineering controls

  • Modify or adjust seats, furniture, and workstations to maintain six feet between employees. Install shields or other physical barriers where possible to separate employees and visitors where distancing is not an option.
  • Arrange reception or other communal seating area chairs by turning, spacing, or removing chairs to maintain distancing.
  • Use methods to physically separate employees in meeting rooms, break rooms, parking lots, entrance and exit areas, and locker rooms. Replace high-touch items, such as coffee pots and water coolers with alternatives such as pre-packaged, single-serving items.
  • Take steps to improve ventilation, increasing the percentage of outdoor air and increasing airflow. Consider running the ventilation system even during unoccupied times to maximize dilution ventilation.
  • Consider using portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration systems to help enhance air cleaning, especially in higher risk areas.
  • Ensure exhaust fans in restroom facilities are functional and operating at full capacity when the building is occupied.

Administrative controls

  • Establish policies and practices for social distancing.
  • Encourage employees who have symptoms of COVID-19 or who have a sick family member at home to notify their supervisor and stay home. Perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection after anyone suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 was in the workplace.
  • Consider conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks (e.g., symptoms and/or temperature screening) of employees before they enter the work site.
  • Stagger shifts, start times, and break times to reduce the density of employees in common areas such as screening areas, break rooms, and locker rooms.
  • Consider posting signs in parking areas and entrances that ask guests and visitors to wear cloth face coverings if possible, to not enter the building if they are sick, and to stay six feet away from employees, if possible.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails, printer/copiers, drinking fountains, and doorknobs. Provide employees with disposable wipes and other cleaning materials so that they can properly wipe down frequently touched surfaces before each use.
  • Remind employees to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, they should use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • For employees who commute using public transportation or carpooling, consider offering incentives such as reimbursement for parking for commuting to work alone or single-occupancy rides. If possible, allow employees using public transportation to shift hours so they can commute during less busy times. Ask employees to wash their hands as soon as possible after the commute.
  • Employees should wear a cloth face covering to contain the wearer’s respiratory droplets. Employees should not wear cloth face coverings if they have trouble breathing, or if they are unable to remove it without assistance.
Educate employees and supervisors about steps they can take to protect themselves at work. Provide information and training on what actions employees should take when they are not feeling well (e.g., workplace leave policies, local and state health department information).

This article was written by Ed Zalewski of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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