With the rapid spread of the COVID-19 disease, millions of workers from different enterprises are now on hold. An estimated 200 million jobs will be lost globally due to the pandemic outbreak according to ILO (International Labor Organization).
For the remaining operable businesses there is a great need to address the built-environment and in particular the workspace.
Aside from healthcare facilities, operable businesses also have a great percentage of transmission in the workplace. This also applies between workers in contact with the public spaces.
The worldwide pandemic will surely change the built-environment. Employees will start to plan on how to redesign their work spaces to safeguard and secure employees.
Public spaces may also follow through as preventive measures will be implemented to control bottle-neck effects and mass gatherings at the same time maintain the social distancing measures.
An assessment is needed. Classifying businesses according to the degree of their exposure to the virus should be initiated to successfully apply solutions.
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has presented 3 main levels of exposure.
- Very High and High Exposure Risk – Healthcare workers, particularly those working with known or suspected pandemic patients.
- Medium Exposure Risk – Workers with high-frequency interaction with the general public (e.g., those working in schools, restaurants, retail establishments, travel and mass transit, office receptions bank tellers or other crowded environments).
- Lower Exposure Risk (Caution) – Workers who have minimal contact with the general public and other coworkers (e.g., office workers)
- Design Strategies for a disease control
Beside changing the work schedules and practices that will help protect workers and clients alike, modifying the work environment and adapting the work spaces to current realities have a more sustainable impact on the future of work.
The following design measures are critical to a healthy work and public spaces.
- Increase humidity. Studies show that viruses are unlikely to survive in a high humidity environment. Centralized ventilation systems should be optimized for a cleaner air There are also portable humidifiers that can be run throughout the building.
- Shift to limited or non-contact arrangements. Assign drive-through windows, opt for virtual meetings and online work-at-home set up.
- Improve Ventilation. Install high-efficiency air filters, make sure mechanical ventilation systems are up and running and an increase of its operating hours should be increased. Open windows to continuously flush out stagnant air from the inside.
- Assign Isolation Room. Consider designating a room where workers can be temporarily placed in the event that a worker becomes sick and is not able to leave the workplace immediately.
- Observe Social Distancing. Space between workers should be at least 3 feet and limit face-to-face contact between workers. Offices with open plans should redesign layout of office desks and chairs.
- Place Disinfection Tents. Provide enclosed areas on entry points to sterilize workers before entering the work premises. The number of disinfection tents should correspond to the number of employees entering to prevent bottlenecking on ques.
- Provide Stockpile Warehouse. PPEs (Personal Protection Equipment) such as masks and gloves; respirators, hand sanitizers, alcohol and other preventive materials.
- Specialized Negative Pressure Ventilators. This is applicable to health facilities. Provide airborne infection isolation rooms for healthcare and for morgues and mortuary settings specialized autopsy suites.
- Add Hand-washing Station. Strategically place hand-washing areas throughout the workplace. For a large building under construction for instance, placing temporary washing stations every 1 to 2 floors for workers.
Most businesses today have begun closing and shifting to the staff home to conduct work and transactions remotely. Larger firms are seen moving quickly with strategic response and planning underway. The smaller businesses on the other hand, will have a harder time in adjusting to the new office home arrangement due to budget and resource constraints.
Cost in infrastructure redesigning and allocating is most likely the largest hurdle for most of the businesses. The added expenditure by companies can add strain to the already declining economy.
But not all industries are suitable for home work set up. Services such as infrastructure and manufacturing will need to wait for an end to the lockdown.
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- Waiting Area to Waiting Cubicles
- Improved Ventilation Systems
- Antibacterial Materials
- IFSS (Infrared Fever Screening Systems)
Companies today are now leaning towards architectural solutions to redesign existing built-environments. If not with this pandemic most businesses are reluctant to shed funds on improving infrastructure assets. It is presumed that offices and meeting rooms will be limited or if not eliminated and instead will utilize virtual meetings and collaborations. Waiting areas from establishments may also be converted instead to “waiting cubicles” or “waiting nooks”.
A rise in the use of automated or no-touch-technology such as voice activated elevators, automatic doors and light switches are a few possible changes in work places.
Installation and maintenance of HVAC systems and increase the capabilities of ventilators in buildings.
Another foreseen trend will be the use of antibacterial materials in paint and fabrics. At present there are products that do offer self-cleaning capabilities and will be seen to rise.
Integration of IFSS OR Infrared Fever Screening Systems which was first developed for the 2003 SARS outbreak. The technology can monitor elevated body temperature on screen. The IFSS might well be integrated in most of our public spaces and work areas.
As COVID-19 disease continues to infect thousands of people around the globe, the need to create strategic plans and emergency response solutions to protect the welfare of the workforce has never been pressing. Amidst the grapple of legislators to provide efficient solutions many professionals and specialists have presented their expertise. Leveraging in our professional expertise such as architects, engineers and certified health care facility designers, is paramount as proper planning of the built-environment will efficiently utilize available resources.