When a COVID-19-centric attitude is a safety hazard all on its own
26 May, 2020

For many South Africans, when they withdrew into lockdown at the end of March, their lives (as they understood living to mean) stopped. With only the scantest of trips condoned to restock and resupply, the world ultimately pushed pause.

Now presented with the chance to resume a life that somewhat resembles what existed ‘BC’ (before COVID-19, for the uninformed), we’re confronted with the reality that while people and our associated activity ground to a halt, everything else continued. Our hair and nails grew without artificial grooming assistance, annual unessential check-ups to medical professionals ceased, and every routine that once defined our lives disappeared with our freedoms.

Life didn’t end, just our lifestyles

While our existence has changed indelibly, previous safety hazards persist. Although COVID-19 pervades, it is by no means the sole threat to our homes and our workplaces. Every assessment should make clear reference to the current threat, but this should not be to the exclusion of all the safety hazards that came before. As the lockdown lifts even further, and businesses anticipate reopening further capacity, it must be with the understanding that their buildings and premises have sat stagnant, which has yielded new opportunities for old risks.

Consider this when reopening your locked down buildings

These are the considerations to keep in mind when it is time to reopen your office buildings.

Ventilation: The control settings of ventilation systems are set to manage an occupied building and the activities that take place within. When reduced activity is not accounted for, the ability to manage the heat load of the building is altered and the control of relative humidity may be a problem. This can lead to conditions where moisture damage and mould growth may occur.

Additionally, with the rainfall we’ve recently experienced, water damage and leaks may also have led to moisture and mould growth. Release of spores from return-to-work activity may result in vulnerable employees experiencing negative respiratory health effects.

Stagnant water sources: When we were all told to go home, and stay there for the foreseeable future, we all shut our doors with little thought to how long we’d be away from our businesses. Water that has been left stagnant in water supply tanks, water heaters, and plumbing lines may potentially be sources of bacterial growth. An example of the kind of bacteria is Legionella, which coincidentally has similar symptoms on infected people as those of the COVID-19 virus. Legionella typically thrives in water sources that are left stagnant at temperatures above 25 ˚C.

Chemical exposure: Under certain conditions, if the storage areas of typically volatile chemicals are not adequately ventilated during the shutdown, this may result in accidental release. If dangerous quantities of vapours or gases are released without being adequately exhausted, the potential of flammable, corrosive, irritating or toxic conditions may exist.

So what to do? The best first step when re-opening your workplace for employees is to ensure that you have the premises thoroughly inspected, to adequately and swiftly address the unforeseen exposure to other harmful workplace hazards.

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