The continued success of the vaccination rollout programs across the country presents the promise of a return to the office soon. This also prompts the slow transition of business operations away from remote working and back into the traditional work arrangements or the proposed hybrid setup. Before accomplishing this, however, employers have to reassure that a return to the office is completely safe.
In this regard, facility management should necessarily become a top priority for organizations looking to bring their employees back into their offices. Likewise, business leaders should emphasize the growing need for experienced safety managers to develop and execute crucial health guidelines within their facilities.
Present Threats Within the Office
The world has been coping with the global pandemic for more than a year now. Within that same time span, most buildings and offices have likely remained dormant without the proper maintenance. While many companies hope to return to the office as soon as possible, suddenly reopening these facilities can prove to have serious ramifications to the health of their employees.
Temporary shutdowns of buildings consequently lead to reduced water use. This simple fact alone can pose countless hazards for returning employees if organizations fail to take the necessary steps before reintegrating their personnel back to the office. These are the potential risks and essential guidelines that safety managers should be aware of to guarantee the safe reopening of their facilities.
Stagnant plumbing systems that hold standing water are the ideal environments for Legionella bacteria to grow and spread. Effectively, this can also increase the risk of employees developing a severe type of pneumonia known as Legionnaire’s disease if left unchecked.
To significantly minimize this particular risk, safety managers should consider hiring dependable drain-clearing services to flush out a facility’s water system. This will generally replace all the water inside a building’s pipes with clean and fresh water, free from harmful bacteria.
It’s also vital to maintain a comprehensive water management program to maintain the safety of a facility’s water systems. Safety managers should also ensure that other water utilities like fountains and sprinklers have a clean water supply.
Lead and Copper Content
Water systems that have experienced low to no use over the past year have more than likely accumulated metals within the pipes and fixtures, particularly lead and copper. This is especially hazardous for facilities that have fixtures for drinking water.
Lead and copper are released into a building’s pipes primarily through corrosion caused by stagnant water. If high levels of these metals are found present in a facility’s drinking water, it can be extremely harmful to the health of returning employees.
While heightening water usage throughout the facility can aid in clearing the presence of these metals in the water, it doesn’t necessarily stop them from being released. In this case, safety managers should proactively clean faucet screens and replace a building’s filters if contents of lead and copper persist.
Molds are quite possibly the most common types of threats to be found in facilities that have been under a prolonged shutdown. Naturally, mold can grow on various surfaces, including walls and insulation, as long as there are high levels of moisture.
Additionally, molds can pose a significant hazard for people with weak immune systems and respiratory issues like asthma. Safety managers should eliminate mold contamination, if present, to maintain a safe and healthy working environment for employees.
To minimize the risk of molds, facilities should necessarily undergo extensive assessments to identify current contamination and if moisture levels are exceedingly high. Indoor humidity should also be kept at a minimum, no higher than 50%. Finally, routine operation and maintenance programs for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems should also be implemented.
Reopening Office Spaces
Recently, a study was published which involved the responses of over 350 business leaders, including CEOs, COOs, and human resources executives. According to the findings, at least 70% have expressed plans of bringing employees back to the office by this year’s Fall. Additionally, 77% are expected to incorporate a successful hybrid working model within the next 12 months.
It should be noted that companies are hoping to return to some degree of normalcy within the immediate future. However, employees still have mounting fears regarding their health upon their return to the workplace. While the workforce will surely be distributed in the post-pandemic setting, it still stands to reason that the reopening of offices should be done gradually.
Business leaders should ultimately invest in better facility management to help ease these growing concerns. Likewise, inspecting the operational viability of offices and workspaces should be conducted as early as now to guarantee the safety of returning employees.