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Preparing Workplaces for the Return to the Office

Posted on December 28, 2021
by Vinay Panday

As people begin to return to the office and in-person work, the need for safe indoor air quality is more important than ever before. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront the need for employers to guarantee a safe working environment for their staff. In order to achieve the healthiest and safest indoor air quality possible, close attention must be paid to ventilation and filtration systems as well as continuing with other COVID-19 reduction strategies.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets in the air. These droplets or aerosols are tiny and not easy to detect. Exhaling, coughing, sneezing, yelling, talking, and singing are all activities that normally expel respiratory droplets. If a person has an active case of COVID-19, these droplets can infect other people around them very easily. COVID-19 can be transmittable even when no symptoms are showing in the infected person. That is why it is so important that offices have exceptionally effective indoor air quality.

Improving Ventilation
One of the most important aspects of healthy indoor air quality in an office setting is adequate ventilation. Studies have shown that outdoor air is much healthier than recirculated indoor air. If the outdoor air quality in the area is safe, employers should keep windows and exterior doors open in order to allow as much fresh air into the space as possible. The building’s outdoor air dampers can also be adjusted in order to allow more fresh air to enter the system.

It is recommended that the indoor air should be replaced at a rate of 4 to 6 times per hour or every 10 to 15 minutes. HVAC system settings may need to be altered in order to achieve this. Some buildings may need additional exhaust fans added in order to increase the amount of fresh air that is circulating.

In the past, some office buildings have used demand-controlled ventilation in order to save on energy costs. This technique reduces the frequency of air circulation in areas that are not occupied. Unfortunately, demand-controlled ventilation is not a good choice for indoor air quality. In order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in an office, experts recommend that office ventilation systems are set to circulate and filter the air for two hours before employees arrive on-site and for two hours after they have left for the day.

Filtration Recommendations
While ventilation is incredibly important to curb the spread of COVID-19, it requires proper filtration in order to be as effective as possible. It is essential that employers pay close attention to air filtration as well as ventilation when looking at indoor air quality.

Installing filters with the highest possible Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating that the building’s HVAC system can support is the first step. Filters with a MERV rating of 11 or higher are able to filter bacteria and virus carriers. HEPA filters all come with a MERV rating, but not all HVAC systems are designed to work with the most effective filters. If the HVAC system is older, it may need to be upgraded in order to be compatible with the desired filters. An experienced HVAC professional will be able to assess the system and recommend appropriate upgrades.

HVAC systems should be routinely cleaned by a professional company and the filters changed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Properly cleaned HVAC systems work much more efficiently and are able to better circulate the air. Clean ducting and venting also reduce the load and energy use of the system which can counteract some of the additional costs of running the system for longer periods of time.

In some instances, portable air cleaners can also be used to improve indoor air quality. These air cleaners are equipped with HEPA filters and can filter the air in a smaller space quite effectively. When setting up these air cleaners, it is important that the airflow is not blowing from one person to another.

Negative air machines may also be useful for some situations. These machines keep the air from moving from space to space. They use powerful HEPA filters to clean the air and negative air pressure to keep it from flowing out of a closed room.

Continue COVID-19 Reduction Strategies
Improving the ventilation and filtration within an office building is a big part of improving the indoor air quality, but additional COVID-19 reduction strategies should also be implemented. Employees should be encouraged to get vaccinated, maintain physical distance, wear properly fitted masks, and wash their hands frequently. It is also very important that anyone who is feeling ill not enter the building. This includes delivering people, visitors, clients, and all levels of employees.

High-traffic and high-touch areas like break rooms, elevators, common hallways, handrails, light switches, and restrooms should all be cleaned and disinfected more frequently. Reducing the number of people in a space at one time is also important. If there is an active COVID-19 outbreak in an office building, a professional disinfection company should be brought in to deep clean the area.

Consult With an Experienced HVAC Professional
The best way to ensure that the HVAC system in an office is ready for employees to return to work is by consulting with an experienced HVAC company like AirTek. They are certified by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) and follow the EPA standards for indoor air quality. AirTek technicians are highly trained in HVAC maintenance, inspections, and upgrades. They understand the importance of indoor air quality and the effects it can have on anyone who works in the building.

With strict attention to the ventilation and filtration systems within a building, employers can ensure that the space is as safe as possible. Properly venting outdoor air, increasing the frequency of air exchange, using the highest-quality filters possible, and encouraging employee compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols all contribute to a healthier workspace. Employees will feel much more confident about returning to work when they know that their employer has taken these steps to improve the indoor air quality within the office.

For more information, contact Airtek Indoor Air Solutions.

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