While there is a lot that we still don’t know about SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, we do know that it is spreads most effectively from person to person in droplet form. Infected people emit these droplets when they sneeze, cough, and speak.
These droplets can be transmitted directly through the air, or they can settle on surfaces where they can remain viable for hours. The virus enters the body of a non-infected person through contact with mucous membranes in the nose, mouth or eyes and attaches to cells in the upper respiratory tract to establish infection.
In many workplaces, employees share a small office space, work in an open-plan office, or use common workspaces that are shared between several different employees on different shifts.
Workers in these situations are often required to work for long periods in environments that make it hard to maintain the recommended social distancing space.
This combination, along with several hours spent in close contact, increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission. In order to protect yourself at work, each employee in a shared office should be able to have at least 4ms to themselves. If this isn’t possible, it would be a good idea to stagger staff or allow them to continue working from home for now.
Secondly, think about the airflow. Small offices often have insufficient airflow to dilute the virus, and, if an infectious person is present, it could end up with high concentrations of viral particles over the course of an hour or so. Conversely, higher rates of airflow combined with poor ventilation can also lead to infection, as droplets can be carried further.
Where possible, it is recommended to increase ventilation and air exchange in open-plan workspaces. Increasing the ratio of fresh air intake to recirculated air can reduce the concentration of virus particles in air-conditioned spaces. Even simply opening windows can reduce viral spread.
Cleaning protocols for offices need to be increased. Where once or twice weekly visit from a contracted cleaner to vacuum the floors, empty the bins and quickly wipe over surfaces was considered sufficient, during COVID-19 you need to ensure that a thorough daily cleaning of all surfaces is carried out.
Frequently touched surfaces, such as desks, light switches, door handles, phones, staircase railings, touch screens, keypads, taps and toilets should be given special attention and may require more frequent cleaning.
If a worker becomes sick with respiratory symptoms, isolate them from other staff and arrange for them to go home. Advise them to get tested for COVID-19 and not return to work until they have a negative result.
Finally, it is recommended that staff wear face masks at work. Face masks can limit the disease being spread by coughs and sneezes. Also, workers should be encouraged to be vaccinated to protect themselves and others.