Did you close down your office space or building during the pandemic, or did your workers or tenants temporarily vacate to work from home? Office reopenings are starting to pick up steam and many more are just around the corner. It’s time to think about what needs to be done before work spaces reopen. The prolonged shutdown may have created unknown health and safety risks. Here are some potential hazards that commercial property owners, managers, and tenants should check before reopening office buildings for work.
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1. Check for Mold
Mold proliferates in cool, dark spaces. That is an accurate description of most closed office spaces. Poor air circulation contributes to mold growth. It allows spores to settle, making it harder for moisture from humidity and other sources to evaporate.
Mold can cause allergic reactions as well as short- and long-term respiratory problems. People with asthma are especially at risk.
At minimum, conduct a visual inspection for mold in all areas of your building. If your heating, cooling, and ventilation systems were deactivated, consider asking a professional to inspect those systems, which are susceptible to mold growth when not in use. Also consider calling a professional if there are signs of leaks, water damage, or other dampness.
2. Check for Rodents and Pests
Rodents, pests, and their waste can carry disease or cause respiratory problems, not to mention the disturbing experience of seeing vermin scurrying through halls or around corners. Employees, tenants, and customers are not likely to feel welcome in a building that has a pest problem.
Before you begin to clean, look for signs of pests, such as droppings, shredded paper, or other nesting materials. Check for holes in walls or containers. You may wish to enlist the help of a pest control specialist if you suspect pests may be present.
3. Flush the Water System
While your water system should normally be sealed, Legionella and other bacteria can enter through tiny leaks and grow when the system is not in use. Depending on your building’s plumbing, the water may become unsafe within days, weeks, or months of non-use.
Before reopening, turn on the water throughout your building so that the water in the pipes is completely replaced. Clean faucets and other exterior surfaces as well as any filters or pumps that you would normally maintain.
4. Follow New Construction Guidance When Restarting HVAC Systems
If your HVAC system was totally shut down rather than operating under reduced capacity, follow or ask if your contractor follows the Standard Practice for the Inspection and Maintenance of Commercial Building HVAC Systems. The goal is to prevent damage to your system while checking for mold, dust, and other pollutants that may have entered the system while it was off.
5. Provide for Increased Air Circulation
One of the major factors in reducing the spread of COVID-19 is increasing air circulation and bringing in outside air. This disperses airborne virus particles that can accumulate in a room.
If possible, set up your building so that windows and doors can remain open. This may include installing screens to keep out bugs or safety bars to prevent falls. When making improvements to air circulation, be aware of outside risks such as carbon monoxide from a road or loading bay, pollen, or other contaminants.
Many heating and cooling systems only recirculate indoor air and don’t have filters strong enough to remove viruses such as COVID-19. Air exchange systems can help replace indoor air with fresh outdoor air while also maintaining a comfortable temperature inside.
6. Identify and Mitigate High-Risk Areas
Until COVID-19 is over, there will still be an increased risk in crowded areas such as conference rooms, cafeterias, locker rooms, elevators, and main entrances. If you have available space due to remote work or reduced occupancy, consider expanding into these areas to improve physical distancing. Occupancy limits may also be needed.
When it comes to employee workspaces, you may need to make adjustments. This might include separating desks, facing desks away from each other, or installing physical barriers.
7. Increase Cleaning Protocols
In many workspaces, only bathrooms receive daily cleaning while most other areas are spot-cleaned or cleaned periodically. Consider daily or more frequent cleaning of all touch points and surfaces. You may also want to place disinfectant sprays or wipes in shared employee spaces for easy access.
As you work to reopen, consider whether any of these needs should be addressed in your Commercial Lease agreement. If you have concerns about potential liability issues or modifying your lease, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney for affordable legal advice.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.