‘Stagnant air in your office could be riddled with coronavirus’

This was the headline of an article published recently by Wired. (Author William Ralston).

The premise of the well-researched and scientifically supported article was that the air flow in most modern offices cannot clear clouds of coronavirus particles. This, of course, has far reaching consequences for employees on the cusp of returning to work and those already back at their desk. Because whilst it’s incumbent morally and legally for an employer to demonstrate a duty of care with Covid-19 safety measures and policies – removing the virus in the air seems a nigh on impossible task. Whilst the PM has encouraged employers to open their office doors and windows this isn’t always possible and really amounts to little more than putting a plaster on a large wound. Many office spaces are back to being densely occupied albeit with hand sanitiser, masks, one metre social distancing and the office buffet off the menu. Office layouts with desks now ring-fenced by plastic screens are still in many cases grouped together, simply because the option of spreading out is not possible. It’s easy to see how and why in these circumstances the virus can become trapped and linger whilst airborne.

The research which gave rise to the headline was undertaken by Arup (an engineering, design, and consultancy firm). Their researchers demonstrated how aerosols — the microscopic droplets we breathe out — move through a typical, well-ventilated office space. This showed an 80 per cent increase in people exposed to aerosols exhaled by colleagues when offices are full. What’s more the researchers found that office partitions create stubborn pockets of viral aerosols across a floor.

Adding further credence to this research the WHO (with the backing of 239 scientists) has acknowledged that indoor airborne transmission of the coronavirus is possible. They agreed that whilst Covid-19 is not an airborne virus like for example measles, transmission can occur over longer distances when aerosols are concentrated in poorly ventilated spaces. And with workers talking throughout what can be a long day, the densely packed office they inhabit with fellow colleagues is becoming a virus transmission hotspot.

The reduction in the amount of space afforded to break out areas, meeting rooms, kitchens etc contributes to the problem too. We can’t all spread out and find a nice big protected space away from colleagues with our own private facilities. Space remains at a premium and this lack of space can turn an office in to a hot bed for airborne virus transmission.

How fast and how far the virus spreads in the air also depends on the commercial ventilation system in place. Most have been designed to maintain adequate CO2 levels, consistent temperatures, and the removal of odours; not to prevent airborne pollutants generated from one occupant from reaching many more. In today’s modern office unless team members are working in cellular offices with ventilation separate from colleagues, they’re all breathing the same air.

Back to the PM’s advice to open the windows and let the air in and out. This is all well and good if the windows are large and located on opposite sides of the floor and they don’t compromise the air conditioning. But even these windows will remain closed if the price to pay is pollution – air and noise. Fast forward to the colder months and there’s no guarantee an employer will open the windows when heating systems struggle to cope with uncontrolled ventilation.

So, open windows are not a viable solution even when they can be opened.

What is the answer?

Unsurprisingly there’s no one silver bullet. However, all is not lost. Keep up with the office deep cleaning regime and add office disinfectant fogging (undertaken by a professional company experienced in this specialist work) to your Covid-19 to do list.

Explaining why, Ralph Izod says: “Our disinfectant fogging kills this airborne virus during its application. We use the highest specification of equipment and the most powerful micro encapsulated disinfectant that has been independently tested to protect surfaces within a building for a guaranteed three days after fogging. (The protection stays in place on most surfaces much longer than 3 days) And whilst it cannot fully protect the air we breathe it will kill any airborne virus. Depending on how a building is used, this protection lasts for a minimum of seven days up to a full month. Regular fogging of the office space is fast becoming a necessity because it stops the transmission of the virus – on surfaces and in the air.”

Please talk to us to find out how we can protect your office.