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Bringing Our Buildings Back from COVID-19 Closure

With the approaching approval of an effective vaccine for Covid-19, planning for re-opening of shuttered buildings around the country can slowly begin. At the same time, the safety of the workers who will be completing the reopening while the pandemic is still raging must be assured. As the virus is controlled, buildings must be ready for opening to assure a rapid return to a flourishing economy.

OSHA has developed guidelines to offer procedures for ensuring the safety of workers. They suggest that each building be evaluated as to the level of risk it poses workers, from low risk where opening tasks can be done by workers at a distance of greater than 6 feet, to medium risk where some tasks must be done by workers with less than six feet separation, and high risk, where workers are in proximity to each other and to others who may, in fact, be infected with COVID-19. OSHA suggest that a reopening strategy be developed for each building based on this risk analysis.

The guidelines identify several approaches to reducing risk to workers. They suggest detailed training of workers regarding safe work practices in a COVID-19 potential environment such to masks, distancing, and handwashing practices after contact with potentially contaminated surfaces. Employees are asked to self-monitor for symptoms and to report quickly any that are suspect. Planning the work strategically for safety, training the workers for safe operation, and organizing the work for utmost safety and effective completion are the three elements of the OSHA guidelines.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers created an Epidemic Task Force with specific focus on reducing the health risks which occur during the reopening of facilities shuttered during the pandemic.

Their recommendations focus on the remediation of risks created, particularly to air and water quality when a building is closed for an extended period. They recommend a strategic plan which reviews the HVAC air movement through the building, as well as the hazards created by standing water from the building’s disuse. Finally, they recommend that the building reopening plan disinfect the spots in the building’s service systems and controls that are most frequently touched, such as switches. The ASHRAE has developed a highly detailed set of procedures for different types of buildings to return to healthy ventilation, safe water, and infection free surfaces. The Task Force has listed a range of resources to assist building operators on their website.

The environmental quality of a large building such as a school, factory, office building or commercial structure requires expert and informed professionals. NITC assures that professionals in this field are up to date on vital subjects such as this one and the many others that support a healthy population.

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