6 warning signs your office building isn’t COVID safe

One year into the pandemic there’s no doubt we are slowly creeping towards normality again. But despite the ever growing optimism that is characterising much of the news these days, Covid-19 itself is not going away anytime soon.

Health experts across the world have spoken of the need to learn to live with coronavirus in the way we do with the flu. Because of this, it’s never been more important to implement as many safety measures to our homes and workplaces as possible. Before returning to work, it's important to understand what air quality measures an office building should be taking to mitigate risk. Below are six warning signs that an office building isn’t safe and needs serious improvements.

Lack of new air cleaning/monitoring technology

We now know that Covid-19 spreads in the air, and by increasing ventilation and improving air quality you can hugely reduce the risk of particles lingering. Indoor air can have some pollutants up to five times higher than outdoors, so offices should be introducing new technology like a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) purifier. By forcing particles through a fine mesh, trapping anything that may be harmful, employees can be confident that the indoor air quality is clean. Introducing an air quality monitoring system should also give employees confidence that everything is functioning correctly. The technology is available, and offices who aren’t introducing this are putting their workers at risk.

 

No guidance or service records posted

Employees should be able to return to the office with full confidence that their company has made safety a priority. It’s easy to slip back into old habits, but the pandemic has created a new normal that requires discipline. Health experts are widely in agreement that even people who have received the Covid vaccine should continue to follow safety guidelines. This includes social distances, wearing masks, regularly washing hands, providing hand sanitiser, and organizing a one-way traffic system through the office. If you return to the office and none of this has been introduced or enforced, that’s a big red flag. Similarly, if service records for environmental testing and cleaning are not prominently posted in the office, then this would suggest pandemic operations are not being taken seriously.

 

Housekeeping is status quo

Offices are breeding grounds for bacteria, pathogens and viruses that could make you ill on the best of the days. If cleaning has not increased per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) then you can be confident that your office has become a petri dish for pathogens. In offices where there are communal areas like kitchens, conference tables and bathrooms, cleaning should be happening more often than ever. Offices should also supply cleaning wipes and spray for desks and keyboards to be cleaned everyday. This should be the absolute bare minimum that offices are enforcing.

Employee complaints

If employees are suffering from eye, nose or throat irritation, this is a strong indication that there are pathogens in the air and ventilation systems are poorly maintained or non-existent. Not only this, but people with allergies and asthma could be at higher risk of suffering attacks triggered by pathogens. If you can’t even be at work without suffering from some kind of irritation, it might be time to head back to the home office.

 

Dusty conditions: Furnishings, ceilings, air vents

Particulate buildup is a smoking gun that should sound the alarm for poor indoor air quality. Dirty HVAC systems and poor filtration can exacerbate the effects of stagnant air and cause pathogens to linger. Not only should dust be regularly cleaned from furnishings, ceilings and fans, but all HVAC systems should be cleaned with 350° F steam and restored with anti-microbial paint. HEPA air filters should also be regularly cleaned to keep them functioning for the long term. If it sounds like too much work for your office, then it’s putting everyone at risk by cutting a corner.

 

Musty smells

An unpleasant musty smell is a major warning sign that indicates bacterial or mold growth. Mold in the walls and furniture can cause allergic reactions, chest infections and breathing problems. But mold growth in a HVAC system should be an indication to the whole office that air quality is both poor and not being monitored.

When we finally start to recover from the fallout of Covid-19, no office should be taking short cuts and doing anything but working to make employee safety and wellbeing an absolute priority. Keep an eye out for these warning signs when you head back to work.

 

Rajiv Sahay, PhD, FIAS, CIAQP, is the director of the environmental diagnostics laboratory at Pure Air Control Services in Clearwater, Fla., a nationally recognized indoor air quality (IAQ) firm. Find out more about Pure Air Control Services here.

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