COVID-19: Resuming work after the lockdown – The guide for adapting workplaces and protecting workers with a project example
As we move into a new phase of supporting a safe return to work, employers are faced with the challenge of adopting preventive measures to help achieving a safe and healthy workplace and contribute to mitigate the transmission risk of COVID-19. So, if you are a business owner and you need to reopen your office in safe and healthy conditions, or a technician and have been commissioned by your employer to prepare the office premises for reopening, then you’ve landed on the right page!
In this focus article I’ll provide you some useful non-binding guidelines to help employers and workers to stay safe and healthy in a working environment and a 3D project of a workplace with anti-COVID-19 objects. The model has been created with Edificius and it is ready-to-use as a reference for your business.
Let’s take a look at the results of this project and this render created using Edificius. As you can see, it shows how office spaces have been rearranged while taking into account the measures to help COVID-19 contagion control.
In the first part of this article, we’ll focus on the measures that employers should consider when planning to resume work and bring back employees to the workplace premises. In the second part, we have some technical information useful for architects, engineers and surveyors in charge of taking care of the safety measures to be implemented in an office.
The main employer’s obligations are to:
- adequately inform, train and educate employees with regard to the proper behaviors to have in a workplace;
- identify possible hazards in the office;
- adopt suitable anti-contagion measures.
Covid-19 office risk assessment
The assessment of the infection transmission risk is a responsibility of the employer.
In order to proceed with the prevention and containment of the risk of transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, you need to analyze the ways in which the risk of infection can spread in your work environment. In particular considering:
- the office spaces arrangements and regular work practices;
- a qualitative analysis of the possibility of transmission as a result of contact between workers, in relation to workplace parameters (environments, organization, tasks, working methods, etc.).
The analysis is an essential step before adopting the right risk mitigation measures and must include:
- work organization analysis;
- identification of activities that can be performed with remote working;
- workers division into groups;
- identification of walking paths for groups of workers;
- classification of places;
- analysis of the layout of the classified places;
- identification of staff operating externally;
- review of transportations used by workers;
- identification of contracted work activities;
- secondary risk analysis;
- review of emergency plans and procedures.
Prevention and protection measures
Based on the specific results of the analyzes carried out, you can choose the most appropriate organizational, procedural and technical measures, which include:
- measurement of body temperature;
- supply of protection devices;
- use of information signs and brochures;
- installation of hand sanitization points;
- personal hygiene precautions;
- training, information and education courses for worker;
- collection of potentially infected wast;
- ventilation/air exchange;
- organization of the corporate layout in order to encourage interpersonal distancing;
- common areas management;
- reorganization of working hours;
- premises access and exit control;
- access control for external suppliers;
- travel and meeting management;
- cleaning and sanitizing;
- business organization;
- health surveillance and protection of vulnerable workers;
- measures to prevent epidemic outbreaks;
- management of a symptomatic person;
- regulatory protocol update.
How to rearrange office spaces
To review the functional distribution of an office and ensure contagion risk prevention, you need to:
- manage entry and exit routes: if possible, provide for a differentiation of the routes in order to avoid the intersection of movements and flows, the identification of multiple access points to the building, an automatic door closing and opening system , removal of of turnstiles and all the measures you believe may be useful to ensure interpersonal distancing of at least 1 meter and to avoid queues and gatherings;
- set up an area for measuring body temperature: depending on the possibilities and space available, provide a special room or obtain a corner, possibly near the entrance, for measuring the temperature. You will need to arrange a table with measuring device, a pack of disposable gloves, a dispenser to sanitize hands and a pedal bin for waste collection;
- arrange points for hand sanitization: near the entrance and common areas, provide areas where workers can sanitize their hands. Remember that the areas identified must not hinder paths and generate queues or gatherings;
- review workstations organization: in open-plan offices or in the case of multiple desks in a single environment, you should make sure that workers are at least one meter away even when they are sitting at their workplace. You can also guarantee the proper spacing with a chessboard-style seating planning and reducing the number of people in the same area;
- review the common areas layout: face-to-face meetings are to be avoided and should be replaced with teleconferences, etc. When this cannot be avoided, you must organize the space in order to ensure proper people distancing and adequate air exchange in the rooms. Whenever possible, it is best to avoid contact with door handles and common objects. Meeting rooms if not used for traditional purposes, can be set up as isolation rooms for potentially infected employees or to create additional safe work stations;
- manage internal routes: you need to identify the most frequent internal routes that are used to reach common areas, workstations, bathrooms, canteen, etc. You can establish dedicated paths to ensure interpersonal distancing and any interference between the flows. You can also provide a routes plan to be displayed in visible places to workers;
- organize pertinent spaces: remember not to neglect the reorganization of the outdoor spaces and parking areas pertaining to the office;
- use protective barriers: if you do not have the possibility to space the workstations, or as a further preventive measure, provide plexiglass (or similar materials) protective barriers that can be easily sanitized;
- ensure the functioning of air exchange systems: make sure that in all the environments there is adequate air exchange, through natural or mechanical ventilation. If technically possible, it avoids the recirculation of air in the systems and the use of air-jet dryers that favor the dispersion of droplets and the circulation of air jets and provides for filters maintenance
- provide some space for the isolation of potentially infected people: define, where possible, a place dedicated to the isolation and temporary hospitalization of people who experience the COVID-19 symptoms during work. You can also set up the space in rooms not used in this phase, such as meeting rooms, auditoriums, waiting rooms, etc .;
- arrange a space for storing personal items next to the office entrance. Remember that the space must be large enough to avoid close gathering of people and contact with objects belonging to different people and the furnishings must be easily washable and sanitized.
Finally, it is always advisable to ensure that all measures of prevention of contagion are also accessible by the disabled (height of sanitizing devices, visibility of information signs, safe access to horizontal and vertical connections, etc.).
In addition to these general provisions, remember that any design solution, even the most creative ones, should be adopted and comply with the analyzed measures.
Case study: office reopening project
Let’s now take a look at a practical case study that you could use as a reference if you need to reopen your office, professional studio or small/medium-sized business.
Back to the office: the surveyed stage
This office project example has a rectangular shape with access from the main road.
The entrance consists of a small lobby that works as a reception area and also protects the working space from the outside. In the single open plan 16 workstations are mounted in blocks of 4, which are arranged on the long side orthogonally to the large windows that are shielded by a brise soleil systems. Workstations are arranged so to allow employees to have sufficient space to move around.
Three desks with printer separate workstations from toilets and the coffee break room. On the opposite wall there are two copiers and shelves. Finally, on one of the short department sides, there are a meeting room in glazed wall and the director’s office.
Office reopening plan
In compliance with the guidelines provided for the mitigation of the COVID-19 contagion risk, as mentioned in detail in the previous paragraph, we have created a safe work environment following some precautions as described below.
From the front door, the path for employees is highlighted on the ground by means of a 10 cm wide green strip, useful for avoiding movements/flows crossing and for ensuring interpersonal distances of at least 1 m.
In the same quite large space, there are lockers for the storage of personal items, the point for measuring body temperature and a table on which to place the package of disposable gloves, the dispenser for sanitizing the hands and the waste bin pedal. Signs showing the main rules to be followed are displayed near the entrance door.
Past the entrance there is a small room, made with plasterboard walls, for the isolation of potentially infected people. The paths on the ground lead to the workstations grouped in blocks of 4 units and with the possibility of being spaced further apart.
The minimum distance of 1 m between the employees was verified by tracing, in plan view, a 75 cm radius circle that defines the protected area.
As a reference, we have considered a radius of 75 cm, also considering the physical size of the person, estimated at around 50 cm. By adding the distances between two people, we will obtain a net interpersonal distance of 1 meter.
The small dividing panels between the desks have been replaced and also integrated with 80 cm high plexiglass panels.
From the single position you can reach the bathrooms and the room for coffee breaks, following the paths on the ground and avoiding the intersection of flows.
Two dispensers with hand sanitizer have been installed next to the entrance to the bathroom and the coffee break room.
The sliding door to access the bathrooms has been automated, to avoid contact with the handle. Electric hand dryers have been replaced with paper towels.
Coffee break room
In this room, the small sofa has been removed to increase the distancing space for employees, however limited to a maximum number of 3 people.
Illustration signs have been placed at the entrance with the measures to be taken by workers.
In order to respect safety distances, a desk chair and the two armchairs next to the sofa have been removed.
The original 6 seats in the meeting room have been reduced and a panel has been placed on the central table. A large screen has been installed for videoconferencing meetings for employees and with external contacts.
Small signs with the same color and graphics, indicating the risk mitigation measures to be respected, have been placed in all environments.
Supporting material ready for free download
Download all the material from here. You’ll find all the material useful to adapt your office with the COVID-19 anti-contagion risk measures.