COVID-19 office safety tools

New Tools for Safer Workplaces in the COVID-19 Era

If you think back to the first days of the novel coronavirus, there was a lot of uncertainty about how to avoid contracting the disease. People were still disinfecting their groceries and their packages, and the consensus was that masks weren’t effective.

Of course, things have totally changed now that scientists and researchers have been able to test and evaluate the conditions that are best for the virus to thrive.

Thanks to their work, most companies have made moves to welcome their employees at least partially back into the office while observing best practices to keep COVID-19 from spreading. These efforts include mask wearing, social distancing, ensuring proper ventilation and airflow, and regularly sanitating any shared surfaces or spaces.

However, there are tools that might make it easier for employers to keep offices safe and comfortable for employees. Here are just a few to check out.

New Disinfection Tools

Scientists have determined that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is transmitted primarily through airborne respiratory droplets, which is why mask-wearing has become so crucial in the fight to spread the disease.

And thankfully, scientists have found that the virus might not survive very long on outdoor surfaces or porous surfaces. But it’s still possible to get sick by touching a recently infected surface and then touching a mucous membrane on your face — namely, your eyes, nose, or mouth. (Plus, you can catch lots of other nasty bugs, including flu viruses, that way.)

So, employers whose employees are working in the office again amidst COVID-19 spread will have to work to keep that office extra clean. Manually cleaning and disinfecting each surface in common areas the old-fashioned way — by wiping them down with a solution of bleach or isopropyl alcohol — is time consuming, to say the least, especially if it has to be done multiple times throughout the day.

For that reason, many employers are considering new disinfection solutions, including electrostatic cleaning and UV light cleaning.

Employers that have welcomed employees back to the office amidst the spread of COVID-19 must work hard to regularly disinfect that office. Click To Tweet

Electrostatic Cleaning

Here’s how the EPA sums up electrostatic cleaning: “Electrostatic sprayers work by charging the antimicrobial liquid as it passes through a nozzle. The positively charged antimicrobial droplets are attracted to negatively charged environmental surfaces allowing for improved coverage on hard, non-porous environmental surfaces.”

Electrostatic cleaners essentially aerosolize disinfectant, which comes out of a tank through a wand. With an electrostatic cleaner, disinfecting an entire room might be as easy as briefly waving a wand through the air.

That said, this is a new technology and there are concerns about human exposure to this form of disinfectant.

This Insurance Journal piece quotes Ian Cull, president of an environmental consultancy called Indoor Sciences, as saying that the risks of aerosolizing many disinfectants hasn’t been studied.
And although the EPA has approved a list of disinfectants effective against SARS-CoV-2, it’s not as clear whether they’re effective when used in fog form.

UV Light Disinfection Technology

It’s not new for hospitals to use UV light to disinfect hospital rooms when the rooms aren’t in use. Newer cleaning tools harness the disinfecting power of UV light on a smaller scale. Cleaners may wave UV wands over specific areas of the office to kill germs there.

Just like with the electrostatic disinfection method, the UV method is much faster than manual cleaning, and there’s no risk from chemicals.

But there are other serious risks. As this Mashable article sums up, these lights can damage skin and eyes if they’re used improperly — and can even go as far as causing skin cancer or blindness. For that reason, and to avoid potential counterfeits, look for tools from reputable sellers that come with safety features such as automatic turn-off buttons.

Note that over time, this light treatment might also damage things like furniture and fabrics.

New “Social Distancing” Tools

At the time this post is being written, the CDC’s definition of a “close contact” — or someone who is at significant risk of having contracted COVID-19 — is “someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.”

These conditions are met even if all people involved were wearing masks.

That means that the office must be redesigned and employees must be scheduled in a way that allows them plenty of space. It also means that someone in the office must actively ensure that employees are keeping six feet apart throughout the day.

A few new tools, including sealed work pods, wearable tech, and remote visitor check-in apps, might make that job a little easier for managers.

Work Pods

We mentioned in our post Why Your Employees Need Quiet Spaces at Work, office “pods” were designed to create a bit of privacy in the midst of an open office space and to help employees concentrate.

However, these pods may be useful in new ways in the era of COVID-19.

Some designers have created pods specifically to address the new needs created by the pandemic. For example, this Business Insider feature shows how one designer created “Q.workntine” pods with built-in air purifiers and airtight doors. The pods even have automatic doors that operate with facial recognition, so there’s no need for employees to touch shared surfaces.

Wearable Tech

Before the pandemic, some office managers were already experimenting with wearable technology to analyze things like employee collaboration and daily movement throughout the workspace.

But these apps now have even more helpful uses in light of social distancing and contact tracing needs brought on by the pandemic.

Wearable tech such as Estimote and Safe Spacer can alert employees when they’re too close together using an audible signal, vibration, and/or light.

These programs can also keep records of interactions and allow managers to see employees’ locations throughout the facility at a glance. Managers can also use the data gathered from the devices to analyze social distancing compliance trends over time.

Remote Visitor Check-In Apps

Of course, most meetings are happening completely online these days. But for those offices that still must welcome visitors in person, the safest check-in solution is one that doesn’t require visitors to get within six feet of a live administrator, and doesn’t require visitors to touch a shared device.

The Receptionist’s contactless visitor management system displays a unique QR code on a tablet check-in screen that visitors can scan with their smartphones upon arrival. Scanning the code launches the check-in process via a browser on their own personal devices (no app download required). The system will then notify visitor hosts via SMS or chat message as soon as their visitors check in.

For even more security and convenience, employees can send out unique URLs to scheduled visitors ahead of their visits so that they can begin the check-in process at home and limit their time in the office lobby.

For more on preventing disease spread in the lobby, check out our article on Protect Your Office From the Risk of Infectious Disease — Starting in the Lobby. You can also head over to our COVID-19 Resource Center for Visitor Management.

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