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COVID-19 and the reopened workplace

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 7/17/2020 2:11:00 PM

With padlocks coming off the doors of more and more workplaces across North America, employers must deal with new safety concerns around COVID-19.

International research company Ipsos has launched its Workplace Health & Safety Compliance Audit service to help business operators and property management companies monitor and measure office-level compliance with new health and safety policies. In Canada, tech company eleven-x Inc. and environmental consultants Pinchin Ltd. have joined forces in a program that promises continuous real-time monitoring of temperature, relative humidity and CO2 in line with the standards of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

It won’t tell you if COVID-19 is in the air, says Dan Mathers, president and CEO of eleven-x Inc., in a phone interview with EcoLog News. But it will tell you if your heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system is working well, and there is a link between poor ventilation and an increased risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19, he says.

In its July 9, 2020 scientific brief on COVID-19 transmission, the World Health Organization said that short-range aerosol transmission cannot be ruled out in crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces over a prolonged time.

ASHRAE is more definitive. “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures,” it said in an April 20, 2020 statement, adding “[v]entilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through the air.”

The conventional method of using periodic sampling to measure indoor air quality won’t tell you if your HVAC system is performing well between measurements, says Mathers. The technology developed by eleven-x and Pinchin does, using battery-powered sensors to monitor air quality continuously throughout the workplace, uploading results to the cloud and sending an alert as soon as it detects an anomaly.

Ipsos’ Workplace Health & Safety Compliance Audits won’t tell you if there’s COVID-19 in the air either, but they will tell you if your workplace complies with government safety standards and they’ll monitor the execution of any new company policies across all company locations around the world. The audits are conducted by an Ipsos-certified auditor and are customized based on geographic footprint and government and company-specific protocols.

A workplace outbreak will be costly, warns Ipsos Vice President Joe Kromer in a release. Risks include worker safety, a loss of trust and reputation from employees and customers, the erosion of company culture and a loss of productivity, sales and profit. The workplace may be required to shutter once more, and may face fines or litigation. “This kind of damage can be hard to reverse,” he said.

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