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New CDC guidance to reopen offices; HVAC adaptions play a major role

The CDC is recommending employees wear face masks in the office along with other advice. Illustration courtesy of the CDC.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in late May new guidance for office building owners, managers and employers to help protect workers from COVID-19 infections when they do return to the office.

The guidelines are not just about having 6-feet of distance between employees’ desks or reducing commonly shared items like coffee pots in the break room. The CDC has extensive guidance on air filtration, ventilation and even the flow of your HVAC system. The guidance addresses possible mold and Legionella in your building’s water systems and offers specifics about cleaning your facility.

It also offers administrative recommendations such as staggering your workforce, health checks prior to entering, using masks inside the building, washing hands upon arrival and supporting workers’ transportation options to reduce exposure risks.

You will find the CDC’s full guidelines on this link, but here are some edited highlights especially relevant to FMs and HR from the CDC’s recommendations:

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

  • Ensure that ventilation systems in your facility operate properly. For building heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC systems) that have been shut down or on setback, review new construction start-up guidance provided in ASHRAE Standard 180-2018, Standard Practice for the Inspection and Maintenance of Commercial Building HVAC Systems pdf.
  • Increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors, using fans, and other methods. Do not open windows and doors if doing so poses a safety or health risk for current or subsequent occupants, including children (e.g., allowing outdoor environmental contaminants including carbon monoxide, molds, or pollens into the building).
  • Evaluate the building and its mechanical and life safety systems to determine if the building is ready for occupancy. Check for hazards associated with prolonged facility shutdown such as mold growthrodents or pests pdf, or issues with stagnant water systems, and take appropriate remedial actions.

Identify where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work. Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace .

  • Conduct a thorough hazard assessment of the workplace to identify potential workplace hazards that could increase risks for COVID-19 transmission.
  • Identify work and common areas where employees could have close contact (within 6 feet) with others — for example meeting rooms, break rooms, the cafeteria, locker rooms, check-in areas, waiting areas, and routes of entry and exit.
  • Include all employees in the workplace in communication plans — for example management, staff, utility employees, relief employees, janitorial staff, maintenance staff, and supervisory staff.
  • If contractors are employed in the workplace, develop plans to communicate with the contracting company regarding modifications to work processes and requirements for the contractors to prevent transmission of COVID-19.

Develop hazard controls using the hierarchy of controls to reduce transmission among workers. Include a combination of controls noted below.

Engineering controls: Isolate workers from the hazard

  • Modify or adjust seats, furniture, and workstations pdf to maintain social distancing of 6 feet between employees.
    • Install transparent shields or other physical barriers where possible to separate employees and visitors where social distancing is not an option.
  • Use methods to physically separate employees in all areas of the facilities including work areas and other areas such as meeting rooms, break rooms, parking lots, entrance and exit areas, and locker rooms.
    • Use signs, tape marks, or other visual cues such as decals or colored tape on the floor, placed 6 feet apart, to indicate where to stand when physical barriers are not possible.
    • Replace high-touch communal items, such as coffee pots, water coolers, and bulk snacks, with alternatives such as pre-packaged, single-serving items.
  • Take steps to improve ventilation in the building:
    • Increase the percentage of outdoor air (e.g., using economizer modes of HVAC operations) potentially as high as 100% (first verify compatibility with HVAC system capabilities for both temperature and humidity control as well as compatibility with outdoor/indoor air quality considerations).
    • Increase total airflow supply to occupied spaces, if possible.
    • Disable demand-control ventilation (DCV) controls that reduce air supply based on temperature or occupancy.
    • Consider using natural ventilation (i.e., opening windows if possible and safe to do so) to increase outdoor air dilution of indoor air when environmental conditions and building requirements allow.
    • Improve central air filtration:
      • Inspect filter housing and racks to ensure appropriate filter fit and check for ways to minimize filter bypass
    • Consider running the building ventilation system even during unoccupied times to maximize dilution ventilation.
    • Generate clean-to-less-clean air movement pdf by re-evaluating the positioning of supply and exhaust air diffusers and/or dampers and adjusting zone supply and exhaust flow rates to establish measurable pressure differentials. Have staff work in areas served by “clean” ventilation zones that do not include higher-risk areas such as visitor reception or exercise facilities (if open).
  • Consider using portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration systems to help enhance air cleaning pdf (especially in higher risk areas).
  • Ensure exhaust fans in restroom facilities are functional and operating at full capacity when the building is occupied.
  • Consider using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) pdf as a supplement to help inactivate the virus. (Editor’s Note:The ASHRAE Learning Institute is offering a UVGI online class June 11.)

Administrative controls: Change the way people work

  • 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 as feasible 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 phone from their cars to inform the administration or security when they reach the facility.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces
    • Follow the Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting to develop, follow, and maintain a plan to perform regular cleanings to reduce the risk of people’s exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 on surfaces.
    • Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails, printer/copiers, drinking fountains, and doorknobs.
      • If hard surfaces are visibly soiled (dirty), clean them using a detergent or soap and water before you disinfect them.
    • Provide employees with disposable wipes and other cleaning materials so that they can properly wipe down frequently touched surfaces before each use.
  • Provide employees adequate time to wash their hands and access to soap, clean water, and single-use paper towels.
    • 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.
  • Establish policies and practices for social distancing:
    • Remind employees that people may be able to spread COVID-19 even if they do not show symptoms. Consider all close interactions (within 6 feet) with employees, clients, and others as a potential source of exposure.
    • Prohibit handshaking, hugs, and fist bumps.
    • Limit use and occupancy of elevators to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet.
    • Encourage the use of outdoor seating areas and social distancing for any small group activities such as lunches, breaks, and meetings.
  • For employees who commute to work using public transportation or ride sharing, consider offering the following support:
    • Offer employees incentives to use forms of transportation that minimize close contact with others, such as offering reimbursement for parking for commuting to work alone or single-occupancy rides.
    • Allow employees to shift their hours so they can commute during less busy times.
  • Post signs and reminders at entrances and in strategic places providing instruction on hand hygieneCOVID-19 symptoms, and cough and sneeze etiquette. This should include signs for non-English speakers, as needed.
  • Use no-touch waste receptacles when possible.
  • Employees should wear a cloth face covering to cover their nose and mouth in all areas of the business.