Ask the experts: Return to work safely
Amid a rise in infection rates, New Hampshire businesses are still working to return to pre-pandemic levels of revenue and seeking expert advice on how offices can be reopened safely.
We reached out to Certified Industrial Hygienist, Certified Safety Professional and Certified Microbial Investigator Dennis Francoeur Jr., of RPF Environmental (airpf.com) in Northwood, to learn more.
What’s the best approach to purifying our office air?
Francoeur: “According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), there are a couple of approaches to consider implementing. First of all, dilute air contaminants by bringing in as much fresh outside air as possible into the workplace and have the air supply systems run continuously while the workplace is occupied. Secondly, use the highest rated filters in your air systems with a MERV rating of 13 or greater, if the air system will handle it. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters remove nearly 100% of airborne particulates. And in some instances, small portable HEPA units can be used and moved around where workers are stationed. Electrical costs will increase with these measures. In short, you want to introduce fresh air, verify adequate ventilation, and eliminate or minimize any contaminants.”
What’s the best way to know our office is sanitized sufficiently?
Francoeur: “Guidance documents indicate that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, can stay alive up to three days on various surfaces. In workspaces that have not been occupied for the past seven days, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that only normal cleaning procedures are needed. In those areas where occupancy is more frequent, cleaning and disinfection plans should be developed and implemented. This could include frequent surface cleaning, which may be required on a daily basis for frequently touched surfaces. Only EPA-approved disinfectants should be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions after normal cleaning with soap and water. These plans should be revised based upon the availability of disinfectants and personal protective equipment.
“Methods for surface sampling for bacteria, fungi and Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) testing as surrogates and more recently surface swab and air samples for genetic markers for the virus have become available. After properly cleaning and/or returning to the office, RPF Environmental can use any of these methods to assist you in verifying the conditions at your workplace.”
How can we best communicate to our employees that we’ve taken steps to sanitize the workplace?
Francoeur: “Be proactive! Let your employees know what your plans are for sanitizing, when you’re sanitizing, when cleaning is completed and, if desired, testing completed that helps ensure their safety.”
How are plexiglass dividers keeping clients safe?
Francoeur: “The current understanding is that the virus spreads primarily through droplets of varying sizes.
Plexiglass dividers, if installed properly, can help reduce the direct person-toperson transmission of the virus. They are a good engineering control to help minimize the spread. The dividers should be used along with cleaning, disinfection, personal hygiene, personal protection equipment (PPE), such as masks and social distancing.”
What steps should I take if an employee’s shows symptoms of an illness?
Francoeur: “Take preventative measures before the employee enters the building. Many workplaces have implemented employee screening as employees arrive at the workplace starting with a questionnaire on activities and symptoms, such as, ‘Have you been near or with anyone with Covid?’ Use thermal scanning with handheld remote thermometers, as fever is one of the many symptoms. If there has been known exposure or temperature is elevated, the employee should stay home or be sent home and asked not to return until they receive a negative Covid-19 test result or quarantine for 14 days.”