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INSIGHTS: Designing for Health - Applying clean room best practices to workplace design

D Reeves 2018

Dana Reeves, AIA, NCIDQ

Commercial Workplace Practice Leader

John Natsis 005

John Natsis, AIA

Science and Technology Practice Leader

Lab Workplace Cover B

How can we make an immediate impact on creating safer workplaces, and how do we leverage our lab and cleanroom experience to design safer workplace environments in the future?

This is what is on our mind as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

During this unprecedented time, Bergmann is, like every other company, looking to provide for the safety of our employees while maintaining productivity in the service to our clients. Lab designers from our Science and Technology Practice and our experts from our Workplace Design Studio came together and realized that cleanroom workflow procedures provide very manageable actions that any work environment can borrow to reduce the transmission of viruses and enhance employee safety:

“Clean” Workflows:

  • “Wash hands” when entering the workplace. Provide disinfecting stations at convenient locations that include, alcohol-based disinfecting products and, if possible, hand sinks.
  • “Reduce your trail” by disinfecting surfaces before and after use.
  • “Reduce clutter” by putting things away at the end of the day to prevent dust buildup.
  • “Remove waste daily” as bacteria lives in trash receptacles.
  • “Provide flexible workspaces” with devices and personal items leaving the workplace at the end of the day.
  • “Encourage new technologies” that reduce the need to touch building or equipment parts and to minimize shared devices.

How can we apply these concepts in workplace design to provide a healthy and effective work environment, during the Coronavirus and beyond?

A cleanroom is defined as a controlled environment where pollutants like dust, airborne microbes and aerosol particles are filtered out to provide the cleanest area possible. Although this may seem extreme for the workplace, there are simple design practices used in cleanrooms to control and kill bacteria in the air we breathe and on the surfaces we touch. Below are four strategies to consider that can easily be implemented in workplace design:

1. Plan for UV and LED exposure. UV-C lamps and devices are used in various configurations and applications to disinfect air. Both UV and LED lamps can be used to disinfect surfaces. In the workplace UV and LED can be introduced in two ways:

  • UV HVAC system or UV retrofit system: These systems allow the return air stream to pass over UV lamps. Bacteria, mold, mildew, and viruses present in air streams are reduced or eliminated.
  • Sanitizing LEDs: This lighting is not harmful to occupants or materials and uses blue wavelengths to kill bacteria and mold.

2. Incorporate Cleanroom surfaces. Most materials that we interact with daily – the floors we walk on, the walls and ceilings around us and the worksurfaces we touch – can be specified as anti-microbial materials. There are also natural materials that inherently kill bacteria.

  • Linoleum is made with linseed oil, which has anti-bacterial properties.
  • Anti-microbial additives can be introduced into paint during the manufacturing process to make it resistant to microbes.
  • Anti-microbial ceiling tiles made of mineral fiber are treated with coatings to resist the growth of bacteria.
  • Laminates used for worksurfaces contain enhanced anti-microbial and scratch-resistant coatings to protect the surface against damaging microbes.

3. Go “Hands-Free” with Technology. Since our hands are responsible for the spread of common infectious diseases, designing with hands-free technology is an effective means of infection control in the workplace. Top spots for germs include handrails, door handles, light switches, elevator buttons and any shared handheld devices. Design strategies for minimizing the need to directly touch through automation and voice activation include:

  • Voice activated assistants
  • Automated doors
  • Control lighting through occupancy sensors
  • Key cards to operate elevators
  • Sensor based faucets, water dispensers, lavatories and hand sanitizing dispensers
  • Personal hands-free phone devices

4. Build for Your People, Not Trends. We don’t accept a ‘one-size fits all’ workplace solution to your office design, as we would never with your lab or manufacturing space design. We shouldn’t take anything for granted, nor fixate on open plans vs. closed offices, or any of the latest hip trends. Good lab designs start with understanding what happens in the labs, and the relationship between the users and their equipment. This is where we start with your workplace design. We design around what uniquely happens in the space, how its occupants do their work, and what they need to do it well. It starts with asking questions and listening carefully to the answers.

Though every workplace is unique, healthy environments and social distancing may become more critical in the future as we realize that much of what we call ‘work’ can be done at home or remote from our team members. What this means for the future of workplace design Bergmann can only imagine. But we’re ready to innovate and address these head-on.