Many of the safeguards required by Executive Order 2020-114 involve screening employees and visitors prior to entering a workplace. For facilities with relatively low entrance/exit counts, screening requirements may be no more than a minor inconvenience. However, facilities like manufacturers with a labor model based on shiftwork have different needs, necessitating quick and efficient screening of large numbers of employees before they begin work.
Some of the safeguards required by the executive order include daily health questionnaires, temperature screenings, dedicated entry points with security measures to prevent bypassing screening stations, and social distancing while queuing. Many facilities are not currently equipped to allow for these activities. In response, several manufacturing, industrial, and distribution facilities have erected open-air tents or created queuing lines under existing canopies.
Public officials caution COVID-19 will continue to be a threat until a vaccine is available; presumably then, screening protocols will still be necessary when the warm summer temperatures give way to the cold winds of a Michigan winter. As such, facilities need to prepare now for a sheltered screening area. The future of design may evolve, with screening areas becoming a basic component to building entry designs; similar to how airport design evolved after 9/11 to accommodate large, robust security screening checkpoints. Until then, facilities need to adapt, such as renovating interior spaces, creating more permanent additions, or erecting temporary enclosures. Many may elect to pursue temporary enclosures as these can likely be placed into service much quicker and more economically than a permanent solution, especially if it is a temporary enclosure expandable based on need, modular, non-obtrusive, hygienic, easy to maintain, and able to be disassembled/stored for future reuse.
Creating an enclosed space for health screening creates certain quandaries that require thoughtful solutions. Here are six things to consider:
Temperature. Soon we will find ourselves in a seasonal condition where enclosure will be necessary to protect employees – and accommodate health screening technologies. Required temperature screenings are typically conducted in one of two ways: employee self-reporting (employers may be required to provide all employees with thermometers) or onsite, touchless temperature assessment. Most temperature screenings will occur as part of the facility entry screening procedure. Touchless thermometers have a narrow ambient temperature operational range; they also require the tested person be acclimated to room temperatures. An outdoor, unconditioned environment will not be conducive to outdoor temperature screenings this winter, or even this summer as temperatures rise.
Testing Rate. Just as the manufacturing process is evaluated for efficiency, so should the health screening procedure. Presumably, the goal is to accurately and expediently screen employees so they can start their shift. The screening procedure should be evaluated to understand the time required to screen each employee then evaluate the result against the number of employees screened at each shift-change. This information can be used to establish the number of testing stations required to balance the opportunity-cost of idle employees against the operational cost of additional screening personnel and equipment.
Airflow and Filtration. Space conditioning requires special consideration. With airborne pathogens, conditioning and movement of air in enclosed spaces can be a liability if improperly addressed. However, if handled correctly, ventilation can increase protection against the spread of infection. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) advises that a combination of dilution and filtration is very successful in removing pathogens from enclosed spaces. Using high volumes of outdoor air effectively dilutes contaminates in the air. Additionally, maintaining airflow circulation during non-occupied hours is necessary. In combination with dilution, the use of filters with a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating of 13 should be used to physically remove contaminates. These strategies have been successfully employed in hospitals and laboratories for years. UV light sterilization, bipolar ionization, and maintaining humidity levels between 40%-60% are additional strategies but typically come with higher costs. Selection of mechanical equipment is important, as there are a multitude of system types available and not all systems are well suited to the demands imposed by high outside air volumes or the pressure-drop created by the use of MERV 13 filters.
Air movement within the enclosure is equally important. Airborne pathogens can ‘ride’ on air currents created by heating and cooling equipment. Controlled airflows that create stable air patterns are necessary. Laminar flow air diffusers arranged in a ‘supply high, return low’ configuration are effective at creating stable air patterns.
Cleanability. Not all types of cleaners and disinfectants are created equal, nor are all building materials. Hard, non-porous materials compatible with intended cleaning products are required. Materials such as carpet, fabric, and even improperly finished gypsum board are difficult to sanitize. Layouts with crevasses or tight, inside corners are difficult to clean. Touchpoints like doors, electronic screens, and writing utensils are special points of consideration. There are also a multitude of antimicrobial-treated building materials and paints on the market that publicize their ability to kill bacteria; these materials should be carefully evaluated by a knowledgeable professional.
Privacy. Health privacy laws, such as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), need to be honored, records need to be secured, and interactions between health screeners and employees are to be guarded. Social distancing protocols can assist with privacy by simply providing a little space between those being screened and those waiting in line.
Testing Procedure. Will an outside health assessment company be contracted to provide the screenings, or will internal employees be reassigned to fill this role? It may be more efficient to outsource this task to an outside organization that is responsible for PPE, record-keeping, and liabilities associated with providing health screenings. Companies specializing in this type of activity may also have access to technologies and procedures that help expedite screening, such as touchless or paperless screening questionnaires. They can also be a valuable resource to a human resources department for record keeping.
As the wheels of industry begin turning again, and the rush to reopen subsides, we look ahead for strategies to safely maintain our workplaces and avoid additional pandemic-related shutdowns. Presumably, the need for screening protocols is going to remain with us for at least another season. Giving thought to the issue now allows for development of effective and efficient solutions for your facility before our warm, sunny summer turns to another cold, windy winter.