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Workplace Article April 2021

Has your workplace got a clean bill of health?

Health and hygiene are both major considerations in workplaces across Australia. Covid-19 was the main driver of this focus, but it’s fair to say that many businesses had recognised the benefits of healthier workplaces even before the pandemic. After all, talented people are attracted to join and stay with companies that look after their employees. Workplace design company Evoke Projects looks at health and hygiene essentials for workplaces in 2021.

Identify your specific business risks

While there will be general hygiene best practice recommendations for Covid-safe workplaces, each business will have its own risk factors. Industrial hygienists have worked in this space for many years, identifying specific hazards and risk factors. Even if you do not have an industrial facility, it is worth approaching your workplace with that risk assessment mind-set.

As well as actual risk, there is also perception of risk. Both are important as they affect physical health and mental well-being at work. It is wise to develop a plan to minimise or eliminate specific risks and publish a written health and hygiene policy so that people feel reassured.

Physical distancing

Physical distancing within an office fit-out is easier for some companies than others. Evoke Projects has been approached by many clients for help re-shaping their office designs into Covid-safe workplaces. Each office design and fit-out is different but potential improvements lie in:

  • Private cubicles within open spaces
  • Fewer desks / reduced workspace density
  • Perspex screens
  • More break-out spaces and lounge furniture
  • Mobile partitions between workstations for an agile office design
  • Movable room dividers for easy remodelling of the office fit-out
  • Movable furniture to add space between people as required
  • Better use of outdoor work areas
  • One-way and wider aisles throughout the office design.

Many of these workplace solutions can be achieved with an office refurbishment rather than a completely new office fit-out.

Where physical distancing is difficult due to the nature of the work, staff will be reassured by making personal protective equipment (e.g. masks) available.

Increased sanitisation

It is important to focus on sanitisation in the workplace for both actual and perceived risk. This is particularly the case with high touch surfaces such as door handles. Part of the health and hygiene policy should include sanitisation protocols. It is even better if touch-free entrance and exit points can be arranged via a new office fit-out or refurbishment. Ultraviolet sanitisation is a good option for escalator handrails.

Touch-free sanitising stations and dispensers with anti-bacterial wipes are already a mainstay of most office designs – keeping them refilled will be an important part of the cleaning protocol.

Paper towels instead of hand dryers

Many commercial bathrooms already have touch free taps, soap dispensers and hand drying facilities. However, Covid-19 has seen advice change around hand dryers. Safe Work Australia advises that “Providing paper towels to dry your hands after washing them is better than using hand dryers because they can dry your hands more thoroughly. If you provide single use paper towels at your workplace, remember:

  • the paper towels should be replenished as required, and
  • used paper towels should be disposed of in a waste bin that is regularly emptied to keep the area clean, tidy and safe.”

Visual cues regarding health and hygiene

Wayfinding signs, directional arrows and floor stickers are a great way to ensure compliance with physical distancing and mindfulness about hygiene. Where desks or chairs cannot be used, signage does not have to be stark and unwelcoming – buy some funky Do Not Sit Here seat cushions!

Ventilation

Good ventilation is important for a healthy workplace design. The NSW Government has listed some steps that can be taken to improve ventilation in indoor settings.

“Indoor ventilation can be most easily improved by opening doors and windows. Other ways to safely improve ventilation include to:

  • avoid directing fans towards people’s faces, such as by aiming them continuously towards the ceiling or floor. Limit oscillation and turbulence of fans
  • regularly inspect, maintain and clean heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems
  • avoid using only recirculated air in HVAC systems, and increase the outside air intake
  • consider disabling ventilation controls with automated settings that reduce air supply based on temperature or occupancy
  • ensure exhaust fans are operational if in place.”

A mechanical engineer can assess your existing HVAC system to see if any changes need to be made to improve filtration and clean air.

It’s not all about Covid-19

While Covid-19 may have dominated our conversations about health and hygiene in the workplace over the last year, there is lot more to a healthy office than eliminating viruses. Workplace design plays an important role in physical and mental health and well-being. For example, fumes from new office fit-out carpets and furniture, acoustic stress, heat/cold, artificial light, poor ergonomics or too much sedentary time, mental health at work… there is a lot to consider.

The WELL Building Standard®️ promotes workplace fit-outs that support health and well-being through its ten concepts of Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Mind and Community. Whilst certification is not for every company, the principles are sound and can be embraced for every office fit-out or refurbishment project for the benefit of your team and the ultimate success of your organisation.

For more information on creating a picture of health through your workplace design, please call Evoke Projects on 1300 720 692.

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