Nate Strong, CEM
Vice President, Energy
Navigating the ‘unprecedented times’ brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic have become an exercise in human resiliency. Facility owners and operators scrambled to direct the flow of traffic, space out cubicles, and install hand sanitizing stations. As the focus of the new year turns to reopening and rebooting, many are left contemplating the overall health and resiliency of their buildings as they plan to welcome employees and customers back in the context of the omnipresent risks associated with occupying indoor spaces.
“The vaccine is here,” says Vice President of Energy Nathan Strong. “We are seeing people talk about returning to work and heading back out into the world. Yet there is still a quite a bit of uncertainty. We’ve been forced to rethink the composition of the workplace as we once knew it. The pandemic brought these issues to the forefront, and we see the requirement for healthy, functional buildings as a fundamental priority in our post-COVID world.”
Controlling What We Can Control
As we have learned over the course of the past year, there is no such thing as zero risk. There are strategies that can be employed with the goal of minimizing risk – best achieved by applying the CDC’s Hierarchy of Controls.
Many businesses spent the bulk of 2020 focused on the two most effective controls – elimination and substitution of exposure – accomplished by mandating work from home protocols for non-essential employees and creating smaller, core on-site teams to support quarantining without warranting a complete shut down.
There have also been substantial efforts in the areas of administrative controls, from social distancing measures and repurposed common areas, to hybrid work from home and in-office days and staggered arrival and departure times. And while ranking least in terms of effectiveness in compared to the previously mentioned controls, personal protective equipment (PPE) – specifically masks – plays a critical role in protecting building occupants.
With varying degrees of efficacy, these measures all understandably impact “business as usual” and beg the question of how, when and if we can safely return to the workplace we once knew.
Loureiro’s expertise comes into play with regard to the mid-section of the hierarchy dedicated to engineering controls and healthy building strategies, which focus specifically on reducing the impacts of the 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building on human health and performance:
- Air quality
- Thermal health
- Dusts and pests
- Safety and security
- Water quality
- Lighting and views
Some of these seem obvious. While a well-lit workspace with minimized background noise should come with the territory, how often do you think about vapor intrusion or dust accumulation? And furthermore, how often do you connect these building-related variables to your everyday health and performance?
“These are the things we want to help our clients think about,” says President David Fiereck. “Studies that analyze sick leave data show a jarring percentage of cases that can be directly attributed to poor ventilation – something as seemingly insignificant as the placement of air intakes can have more of an impact than you think.”
Ventilation, air quality and thermal health are particularly complex and influenced by many variables. How many people are coming in and out of the building each day? How many times are doors opening and closing? Where are the vents? Where are the windows? How does the flow of air through a building influence not only a potential exposure to a virus but also the health and productivity of occupants in a facility?
It all seems like so much to think about, and since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Loureiro has been working with owners and managers looking for comprehensive, diverse, and creative solutions that will enhance the health of their buildings.
Healthy Buildings: The New Normal
Any space that has been dormant for an extended period of time can present facilities management challenges. Moisture buildup, corrosion, water stagnation and other problems can result from periods of reduced occupancy and utilization, leaving building owners in a bind when evaluating spaces for reopening.
Whether reconfiguring an active workspace or bringing an idle building back online, Loureiro helps clients identify and implement effective measures to ensure the health and resiliency of their facilities. Similar to an annual physical, we recommend a regular pulse check of your building to deepen your understanding of the inherent connection between the work environment and human health and performance.
“We’ve been proponents of healthy, sustainable and energy efficient buildings long before COVID hit,” says Fiereck. “I don’t want to say we were prepared for this because no one really was. But I think the pandemic has allowed Loureiro to focus on how we can better help our clients feel safe in the facilities they occupy, now and moving forward.”
As you start to reopen the entryways of these dormant buildings, it is important to have a plan. Loureiro supports re-occupancy by undergoing a thorough evaluation process, assessing the state of the site as well as existing operational processes and associated staffing requirements. We help building owners and operators become more resilient in the face of these environmental challenges by focusing on what makes a building healthy – today, tomorrow and moving ahead into the unknown.
Connect with us for a consultation.