by Scott Rhymes, The ABD Team
When a social norm as common as a handshake may go the way of the Dodo bird, new expectations are bubbling to the surface that will influence how we reduce the spread of communicable diseases into the future. The pandemic has taught society, employers, and employees a lot about age-old safety methods and concepts. Now common in our vernacular are terms like social distancing, hazard identification, the hierarchy of controls, MERV ratings, face mask efficiency, ventilation control systems, and many more.
According to the CDC, absenteeism costs US employers $1,685 per employee per year in lost productivity due to sick employees. (1) Other estimates put the overall loss of productivity directly related to the common cold at $25 billion per year. (2) These losses include economic loss of productivity and caregiver absenteeism. If the overall spread of disease could be reduced, a reduction in lost workdays would be significant to US employers.
With enhanced societal awareness about disease transmission comes new expectations about maintaining and cleaning our facilities. Also changing is society’s expectation around coming to work sick. In the pre-pandemic world, many of us would go to work ill, knowing there was an expectation to do so or because sick leave policies did not provide enough support for employees to stay home, especially for part-time workers. Absenteeism has traditionally been a focus area for businesses, but we now see more emphasis on presenteeism or working while sick. The reality that we do not want sick employees present in the workplace is now front and center for employers as we experience rising workers’ compensation costs associated with disease transmission in the workplace. Employers should consider a careful review of their leave policies to avoid presenteeism and other safety-related side effects of sick leave policies such as short-cutting procedures or rushing due to staffing shortages.
The pandemic also highlighted the importance of developing comprehensive business continuity plans. A business continuity plan helps companies establish contingency plans for disruptive events enabling quick recovery to pre-defined acceptable levels. Labor shortage contingencies due to the pandemic now need to be included as part of our planning efforts. Being ready for large percentages of your workforce being out sick is now a reality……
As companies continue in their re-opening process, they will need to refer to guidelines set by their state and local health departments. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) have also published resources and re-opening guides for businesses. Expectations, regulations, guidance documents, and the ongoing development of our understanding of how disease is spread will shape how companies will meet the re-opening challenge. A combination of policies, procedures, and technology will need to be used to reduce risk to our guests, customers, and employees. Attention to our employee’s overall health and well-being is also critical. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has been researching the concept of Total Worker Health to raise the overall health and safety of employees and lower both health care and Workers’ Compensation costs. NIOSH has numerous resources and publications to help companies take a more holistic approach to their employees’ health and safety.
To maintain this higher expectation for cleaner and safe workplaces and the lower overall spread of disease, employers will need to continue their evaluation of disinfection chemicals, cleaning protocols, and use of disinfection technologies to ensure they are both providing the results expected and ensure they are safe for use around the public and employees. Some of these existing disinfection chemicals and new technologies can have adverse side effects or health exposures depending on how they are used. These types of exposures also need to be evaluated before use and, in some cases, may require additional engineering controls or personal protective equipment to be used safely. New technologies are coming to market that have promise in our post-pandemic world. Hardship drives innovation and has provided new technologies and innovative techniques and uses for existing tools. Already, the public has made their opinions clear on their desire for increased safety for all. Social distancing, face masks, and installation of physical barriers will continue to be primary control techniques, but there are also new and innovative control technologies to consider. Before an employee arrives at work or a customer enters a restaurant or store, there are methods we can use to reduce transmission of disease. Facilities can use ultraviolet light to disinfect surfaces and the air in a building, we can use touchless infrared screening tools to check for raised temperatures, and we can integrate touchless technology throughout our facility to limit common touchpoints.
Once customers, students, patients, or employees leave the workspace, many companies are using chemicals to disinfect surfaces, either via manual wiping or spray systems. While EPA-listed chemical disinfectants can be partially effective, they can also bring serious health consequences for those who come into contact with them. Ultraviolet-C (UV-C) light disinfection systems can provide a safer, faster, and more effective alternative to chemical-based disinfectants. UV-C disinfection is not new, but its use has climbed in the past year. With wavelengths in the 200-280 nanometer range, UV-C light can inactivate virtually all bacteria and viruses in an indoor space. UV-C light-based systems have been considered the “disinfection” gold standard in hospitals for decades, but historically, most other organizations have been unable to afford the technology. . However, the COVID-19 pandemic has driven both new business models and applications of the technology, making it accessible to all organizations for the first time. R-Zero is a company, making hospital-grade UV financially accessible via a subscription lease model. Imagine school classrooms being disinfected each night, hotel rooms between guests, doctor’s office exam rooms between patients, and restaurants and offices nightly by custodial staff. R-Zero’s Arc brings the proven ability to destroy 99.99% of pathogens of airborne and surface pathogens without the use of toxic chemicals. Compare that to traditional chemical disinfection, which is error-prone on surfaces, ineffective against airborne pathogens, and can leave behind fumes or residues that threaten the health of cleaning staff and those who use the spaces they treat. Another UV-C system advantage over traditional chemical-based disinfectants is efficiency. Most chemical disinfectants require varying contact times ranging from one minute to over 20. (Contact time is the amount of time a chemical disinfectant needs to stay wet on a surface, in order to ensure efficacy.) Best-in-class UV based systems, by contrast, can fully disinfect a 1,000 square foot room in as little as 7 minutes — with virtually no touch-time required.
Because UV-C light can be harmful to human skin, comprehensive safety systems including 360-degree motion and heat sensors, countdowns and automatic shut-off have been built into their hardware that prevents any accidental exposure. R-Zero’s Arc system also provides BLE and LTE-based location logging of disinfection activities and custom dashboard integration for a comprehensive recordkeeping system.
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