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Dormant offices – a breeding ground for diseases other than COVID-19

Bradley Wingrave, CEO - Smarter Technologies Group

As lockdown measures ease, returning to work across the United Kingdom is a cause of concern for many business owners looking to safeguard the health of their workforces. While COVID-19 remains a threat, efforts must focus on mitigating the threat of all diseases in the office environment to minimise further despair and disruption.

In preparation, the government has released eight guidance documents on how employers should make workplaces safe before employees return, with the main objective being to conduct a thorough risk assessment that is to be published on the company website where possible.

As well as a risk assessment, the guidance reinforces the importance of COVID-19 mitigating actions, such as social distancing, surface cleaning and frequent hand washing. With these measures in place, an increase in use of the workplace’s water is to be expected.

Legionella has long been a threat as a consequence of not carrying out regular checks of water and flushing systems and thrives in ‘Goldilocks’ systems, where the temperature is neither too hot nor too cold.

As most offices have been mothballed during the lockdown, there has been a halt on the normal flow of water usage, which has effectively left water sitting in pipes for weeks, posing a risk of Legionella. Businesses such as pubs, clubs, leisure centres, spas, student accommodation, dental practices and military barracks are particularly at risk.

Smarter Technologies Group, a specialist monitoring and surveillance engineering firm, has been working with building managers in these types of establishments to reduce the threat of Legionella through the introduction of the company’s combined automated flushing and temperature units. Placed on taps and shower fixtures, these units provide scheduled, automated temperature readings and flushing.

As well as this, most standard offices these days have showering facilities available to staff. While progressive management teams are mitigating the risks of COVID-19 by subdividing offices and introducing temperature checks, special attention should be given to these less obvious parts of the office too, which could prove fatal in other ways.

“Legionnaires’ is a respiratory illness spread in the vapour mist from air conditioning units, taps and particularly showerheads. To avoid setting off a slew of problems, trained facilities management staff at all businesses need to check the shower blocks, especially since more people will be avoiding public transport by biking or jogging to work and therefore may need to use showers,” explained Bradley Wingrave, CEO of Smarter Technologies Group.

“Like many companies during the lockdown, we have found ourselves being asked to turn our expertise toward the problems created by COVID-19, which we have solved with our FeverLink suite of products.

“However, we remain focused on providing state-of-the-art monitoring systems into business premises, and we are concerned that basic risks such as Legionella, that are poorly understood in the wider business community, will be missed.

“Rather, all of the normal issues linked to cleansing systems, air quality, temperature and pest control should be magnified. A staggered return to work may also overbear conventional systems as property managers contend with the concerns linked to the health of the workforce.

“COVID-19 has made the health of the nation a newsworthy topic, and employers will need to demonstrate a heightened duty of care in the workplace going forward, which is a requirement that Smarter Technologies Group is equipped and experienced to meet.”

This is no doubt a unique period in our industrial history. Although uncertainty prevails, solutions have been found through leveraging technology, whether that be in working from home, staying connected to friends and family at distance or keeping business operations running.

That said, taking advantage of available technology may also be the best way forward in keeping our people and workplaces safe and ensuring compliance with both existing regulations and the new guidance that is cascading down from the government.

The frontline of healthcare defence for the workforce is both checking your staff as they enter a building and ensuring that the conditions they are walking into are equally monitored.

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