Coming back to Work from the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic

Workplace Reentry Guidelines for General Office Space

 As the flattening of the COVID-19 curve has occurred, states are beginning to allow non-essential companies and office spaces to reopen. Property management, facility management, and Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) professionals are now planning for the reentry of the workplace.

There are many factors to consider when reopening an office and it takes preparation, management, communication, and training to anticipate and address the health and safety risks. There is “no one size fits all” approach and a customized company guideline will have to be developed. The success of reopening depends on how much time you allocate to your planning strategy. These three key areas have been identified to help you start the process:

  • Reviewing, developing and executing the operations of the office space including the evaluation of the indoor environmental quality (IEQ)
  • Providing for and managing the health and wellness of the employees
  • Understanding and implementing government and reputable organizations guidelines and policy

Review, develop, and execute the operations of the office space including the evaluation of the IEQ

Identify the return to work COVID-19 safety related tasks prior to the reopening of the office. First, a safety audit evaluation of the office building and internal spaces should be conducted. Once this is done, engineering and administrative controls can be designed, installed and/or implemented to reduce the risk of transmission among employees. In addition, an assessment and review of the existing written safety programs should be conducted. Evaluate your risk mitigation strategies and decide if they are sufficient to keep employees healthy and safe. Some strategies may not be economically or technically feasible. An example is an engineering retrofit such as Ultraviolet (non-ionizing) radiation install that may contribute to other safety risks and maintenance costs.

  • Create a return to work safety program that incorporates both engineering and administrative controls. Engineering controls isolate workers (such as using sneeze guards or increased outdoor air ventilation) from hazards, whereas administrative controls change the way people work. 
    • Engineering Controls
      • Evaluate the space for reconfiguration to include but not limited to entrance and points of egress, elevators, lobbies, reception areas, restrooms, conference rooms, break rooms, cafeteria, office space, and other high traffic areas.
      • Evaluating high risk areas for vulnerable individuals, (i.e. older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions).
      • Include recommendations for adding Plexiglas or Acrylic barrier sheets, “sneeze guards,” floor signage, touchless technologies (i.e. motion sensor entry doors), etc.
      • Evaluate the feasibility of increasing the building’s ventilation airflow exchange and filtration efficiency in office spaces. This is in addition to common areas such as conference rooms, hallways, dining rooms, and restrooms, etc. This will warrant close collaboration of in-house facilities personnel and/or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) maintenance contractors.
        • Identify the ventilated outdoor air exchange percent verse. recirculated air, and determine whether additional outdoor air be introduced without causing discomfort to the occupants (i.e. higher humidity and heat load in the summer).
    • Administrative Controls
      • Social Distancing protocols and constant communications via verbal and infographic displays.
      • Staggering administrative office workforce returns.
      • Creating an action plan when a(n) (unconfirmed COVID-19) sick employee comes to work.
      • Supplement with thermal temperature readings prior to the employees entering the building using non-contact devices.
      • Determining cleaning and disinfecting protocols for areas that are high touchpoints or if an employee is COVID-19 infected or in close contact with a COVID-19 positive person.
      • Safety protocols for visitors and vendors that are not employees who come to the office.
  • Cleaning and Disinfectants: Conduct an assessment of all areas to be “deep” or more intensely (including cracks and crevices, and hard to reach areas) cleaned, and develop cleaning and disinfecting protocol that includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and using United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered household disinfectants. Collaborate with remediation and cleaning contractors who specialize in COVID-19 disinfection procedures. Disinfection methods may combine fogging and manual cleaning surfaces. Fogging allows for better and more even distribution of disinfection liquid surface contact.
  • Ensure touch points are identified for cleaning on a daily or more basis, depending on the frequency of usage. Examples are chairs, telephones, desks/tables, counter tops, door knobs, elevator buttons, handrails, napkin/towel dispensers, vending machines, photocopiers, break room coffee, and other common use appliances, sink hardware, etc.
  • Evaluate the IEQ of the building which includes but is not limited to:
    • Ventilation – measure air flow through the supplied air diffusers and/or supplement with velocity and static pressures readings.
    • Water damage on ceiling tiles, floor tiles, and carpets
    • Mold growth
    • Water stagnation from water towers, decorative fountains, and hot water sources that can cause Legionnaire’s Disease.
    • Indoor and Outdoor waste
    • Odors
    • Pests
  • Be prepared with proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies like face coverings and hand sanitizer for your employees.

Providing and managing the health and wellness of the employees

Communication and transparency are key for a successful return. Employees want to know that their employers are concerned about their well-being, health, and safety. Communication should be easy to understand and be in preferred languages spoken or read by the employees. Employees need to know what is being done to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 (i.e., disinfection routine, health policies for staff, and health and safety measures in place). Employees must understand any new work and health policies and protocols established, and should be made comfortable to ask questions and reach out to management.

Inform and educate employees on a continuous basis.  Emphasize and reiterate the indefinite need to wear their facial covering and masks. Inform them on how often to wash their hands, or use hand sanitizers. Too frequent use of hand sanitizer can actually cause skin dryness depending on the concentration of Isopropanol. Other additional training should include hazard communications, PPE usage, respiratory training, and fit testing (if required) for in-house custodial staff. Especially since most of the EPA N-listed disinfectants are considered skin and eye irritants, and corrosive.

 Understand and implement government and reputable organization guidelines and policy

Always stay informed with Federal CDC, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), State and City regulations and guidelines to update, and maintain your COVID-19 procedures and plans and to inform your employees. You may also want to refer to your industry association or the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) guidelines that may provide more detailed and specific information.

 Contact PHASE Associates

PHASE Associates is providing consulting and training services during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are currently working with our clients on disinfecting and cleaning, temperature readings, and back to work best practices, protocols, and guidelines following federal agency and industry guidelines. Our staff includes CIH and CSP in addition to expertise in biosafety. We are listed in the AIHA consultants list for CIH, CSP, and Industrial Hygiene, Indoor Air Quality, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and health and safety related training.

For more information on how PHASE Associates can help you prepare for Coronavirus workplace reentry, please contact Gary Schwartz, President, CIH, CSP; Ken Bickerton, Vice President, CIH, CSP and Adam Schwarzenberg, Director, CIH, CSP.


  1. AIHA Reopening: Guidance for General Office Settings
  2. CDC COVID-19 Employer Information for Office Buildings
  3. OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
  4. Boma International Getting Back to Work: Preparing Buildings for Re-Entry Amid COVID-19

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Cleaning and Disinfection Protocol

For more information or questions regarding Coronavirus, call us at (973) 597-0750 or email

The following protocol has been developed as a guideline to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. These protocols are subject to change and may be updated at any time.

General Guidelines

  • Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially.
  • Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (i.e. doorknobs, keyboards, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
  • Limit hand to face contact. Cough or sneeze into a tissue, then throw the tissue into the trash and wash hands frequently.

Cleaning Guidelines

  • Use PPE (disposable gloves and N-95 respirator) to prevent direct contact with chemicals and potential bodily fluids. Employees should wash hands with soap and water prior to donning PPE.
  • Don eye protection (i.e. safety glasses and face shield), if splashing is expected, prior to entering any contaminated areas.
  • Use gowns, leg covers, or shoe covers as needed.
  • Immediately clean surfaces and objects that are visibly soiled. Additionally, clean all frequently touched non-porous surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Cleaning should occur 1-3 times per day.
  • Currently there are no FIFRA/EPA approved cleaning agents for COVID-19. Wash surfaces with a general household cleaner. Rinse with water and then apply disinfecting agent. Use agents that are either ethanol, accelerated hydrogen peroxide, or bleach-based and follow the directions on the product label. Do not mix cleaners and disinfectants unless the labels indicate it is safe to do so. Used wipes must be discarded, do not re-use or double dip.
  • The recommended length of time for the disinfectant used should be 5 minutes before drying (allow to air dry if possible).
  • According to the CDC, diluted household bleach solutions can be used if appropriate for the surface. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation. Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted.
    • Prepare a bleach solution by mixing:
      • 5 tablespoons (⅓ cup) bleach per gallon of water or
      • 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water
  • A list of products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims, maintained by the American Chemistry Council Center for Biocide Chemistries (CBC), is available at: Products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims are expected to be effective against COVID-19 based on data for harder to kill viruses.
  • Carefully remove contaminated porous materials, where possible, such as upholstery, rugs, and carpeting. Launder in accordance with the product instructions or dispose (material should be sealed in plastic and labeled as a biohazard during disposal).
  • Change PPE frequently, especially if damaged during cleaning and disinfection.
  • Once cleaning and disposal is completed, employees should remove and discard PPE. Used PPE should be disposed of in plastic bags, tied up, and labeled as a biohazard. Employees should wash hands with soap and water prior to leaving the cleaning areas.


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Coronavirus Disease 2019 and Workplace Prevention

For more information or questions regarding Coronavirus, call us at (973) 597-0750 or email

Written By: Gary P. Schwartz, CIH, CSP, CMC
February 24, 2020

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus Disease 2019, now officially known as COVID-19, is a new respiratory illness that was first identified in Wuhan, China in December of 2019. This is not the same as the types of coronaviruses that commonly spread among humans that cause mild cold symptoms. COVID-19 most likely developed from an animal source and is currently spreading from person-to-person.

There have been tens of thousands of cases in China, with a growing number of infections spreading internationally. Illnesses range from having mild flu-like symptoms to severe respiratory illness and death. As of February 20, 2020, there have been over 75,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 2,000 deaths from the virus globally. It is also important to note that the CDC estimates there have been at least 26 million influenza illnesses and 14,000 deaths so far this flu season.

Symptoms and Treatments

Those with confirmed COVID-19 infections have reported symptoms including mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Complications may include pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believe that symptoms of COVID-19 appear between 2 and 14 days after exposure.

There is currently no treatment or vaccine specifically available for COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to COVID-19. People infected with COVID-19 should receive care to alleviate their symptoms. For severe cases, treatment should involve supporting vital organ functions.

People who believe they may have been exposed to COVID-19 should contact their healthcare provider immediately. Call ahead before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room and warn them about your symptoms and concerns.

Preventing COVID-19 in Your Workplace

Illness prevention for COVID-19 in the workplace revolves around important actions employers and employees can take to protect themselves, referred to as nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs).

Given the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, workplace illness prevention policies should be revised to include: monitoring employee travel to impacted locations, implementing a 14-day stay at home before returning to work policy following a visit to an impacted location, guidance for employees exposed to close family or friends impacted by an outbreak, and a stay at home/work from home policy when an employee is contagious or suspected to be contagious.

Employers and workplace administrators should:

  • Build illness prevention policies into business operations;
  • Stay informed about the COVID-19 situation in the area through communicating with the local health department;
  • Promote sick leave policies that encourage sick employees to stay home;
  • Train staff on healthy workplace policies and behaviors;
  • Maintain a clean work environment by cleaning frequently touched surfaces and objects like telephones, keyboards, and doorknobs;
  • Provide supplies such as tissues, soap, and hand sanitizer to promote healthy hygiene; and
  • Encourage frequent hand washing using proper washing techniques.

Employees should:

  • Stay home when sick and for at least 24 hours after fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicines;
  • Stay at least 3 feet away from sick people whenever possible to avoid droplets from coughs or sneezes containing infection;
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and throw the tissue away and wash hands immediately;
  • Wash hands thoroughly and often with soap and water. Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be used if water and soap are not available;
  • Clean frequently touched objects and surfaces with soap and water or an EPA-approved bleach-and-water solution or disinfectant.  Follow the instructions for the bleach solution or disinfectant to ensure it is effective in sanitizing the surfaces;
  • Know their employer’s sick leave policies; and
  • Stay informed on the local COVID-19 situation.

What to Do if You are Sick

If you are sick with COVID-19 or suspect that you have the virus, you should stay home for the duration of the illness, except when getting medical attention. If living with others, you should stay in a specific room to avoid contact with others in the home.

Call your healthcare provider to let them know you have or might have COVID-19 so they can take precautions to keep others from getting infected or exposed.

Wear a facemask when you are around other people and pets, and before you enter a doctor’s office. If you are unable to wear a facemask, you should stay in a separate room from those that live with you, or they should wear a facemask when entering your room.

Use good hygiene practices such as covering all coughs and sneezes, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer with 60-95% alcohol, avoiding sharing personal household items like dishes, cups or bedding, and clean surfaces that are frequently touched to avoid exposing others.

If your illness is worsening, seek medical attention immediately. If you have a medical emergency and must call 911, notify dispatch personnel that you have or are being evaluated for COVID-19. Put a facemask on prior to emergency medical services’ arrival if possible.


The spread of 2019 Coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is a rapidly evolving situation that is being closely monitored by the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO). In the United States, imported cases of COVID-19 in travelers have been detected, along with person-to-person spread of COVID-19 among close contacts of returned travelers from Wuhan, China. However, the CDC stresses that this virus is not actively spreading in the United States, and the risk to the general American public is low.

Workplaces offer several opportunities for people to interact, which increases the risk for respiratory illnesses to spread. There are actions people can take to protect themselves and others from the transmission of respiratory illnesses like COVID-19, which include staying home when sick and following proper hygiene practices.

It is expected that more cases globally will continue to be identified in the coming days, including in the United States. It is also anticipated that person-to-person spread of COVID-19 will continue to occur. Staying updated on the evolving situation and following the directions from public health officials is integral to slowing the spread of this virus.