Jamie Woodhall, Technical & Innovations Manager at Rentokil Specialist Hygiene
After many months of employees across the UK working remotely during various lockdowns, the government is now actively trying to encourage workers back to office environments.
With nine in 10 workers indicating that they want to continue working from home in some form, and the government starting a consultation to give UK workers the right to request flexible working from day one of employment, it looks like the recently evolved ‘hybrid’ model of splitting working time between home and the office is here to stay.
So, if employers want their employees to come into an office in this hybrid work era, it’s vital that they proactively work to provide as safe a workplace as possible for their teams. In this piece we’ll explore the key things employers and facilities managers can do to reassure their employees that their personal hygiene, safety and wellbeing are top of the agenda.
Air quality has been shown to be a key issue for employers in the age of hybrid working. One major discovery published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) during the pandemic was that Coronavirus could be transmitted from person to person via aerosols in the air. As a result of this and increasing concerns over air quality in general it was of little surprise that research conducted by Rentokil Initial found that 68% of Brits said that businesses and employers should do more to ensure they provide clean air in their premises.
While the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of air quality and ventilation – it is not a new issue. The WHO says that poor indoor air quality is responsible for 3.8 million premature deaths globally, with cross contamination of airborne viruses and diseases 19 times more likely indoors than out.
Ensuring adequate air quality falls under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. Businesses are required to maintain working conditions that are safe and without risk to employees, stating that air quality should be at least equal to, but ideally better than, the air outside the building. This has until recently, relied upon adequate ventilation of indoor areas via windows or systems such as ducts and fans or traditional, outdated air purification solutions that may not adequately clean the air.
Modern air purification systems such as VIRUSKILLER™ go further than traditional ventilation methods and are a great way to help ensure indoor air is kept clean and healthy. The VIRUSKILLER™ solution kills 99.9999% of viruses with a single air pass, including Coronavirus*. Unlike traditional air purifiers that ‘trap’ airborne particles and microbes, the solution also kills airborne viruses, bacteria and fungi**.
With restrictions removed, some people may incorrectly assume that Coronavirus is a ‘non-issue’ these days, and while a large majority of the public have now been vaccinated in the UK, it doesn’t mean that the pandemic is over.
Employers and facilities managers have an ongoing and important role to play in helping break the chain of transmission of viruses and illnesses such as Coronavirus, especially as many workers look to split their time between home and the office.
We developed our HATS model early in the pandemic. It is a tool used to critically and objectively assess whether a facility is covering all the bases to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus, and other illnesses. It achieves this by creating a system for facilities managers to consistently assess hygiene factors, atmosphere, touchpoints and social distancing, with an appraisal model that is unique to their premises.
This framework is not only useful to help minimise the spread of infection, but it’ll also ensure no area is missed in routine cleaning strategies and put hygiene front-of-mind in company return to work policies.
The mental impact of the pandemic has been significant. In fact a leading psychiatrist told the Guardian it was the greatest threat to mental health since the second world war. While the UK appears to be starting on the journey of ‘returning to normal’, many workers may feel anxious and apprehensive about returning to the office.
Communication is an important part of the process of providing a safe and hygienic workplace. Signage to remind people about hygiene practices such as handwashing, sanitising surfaces or social distancing, or displaying information about cleaning practices and protocols onsite will help reassure hybrid workers, who may wonder if the facility has been cleaned since their last visit to the office.
“Returning to normal” is something that people have been excited about since the pandemic took hold in March last year. But now that this is closer to reality, facilities managers will not want to risk contributing to a new wave of the virus by letting their standards slip. This can be managed with consideration of effective air care, effective cleaning and communication on hygiene best-practice, which combined will play a role breaking the chain of infection as we enter the hybrid work age.
* When independently tested against Coronavirus DF2 (a surrogate for Coronavirus), Adenovirus, Influenza and Polio, the unit was found to kill 99.9999% of viruses on a single air pass.
**When independently tested against reference bacteria (Klebsiella pneumoniae, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Staphyloccus aureus subsp. Aureus, Streptoccocus pneumoniae, Streptococcus pyogenes, Escherichia coli), the unit was found to kill 99.9999% of bacteria on a single air pass.