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In an effort to combat communicable illnesses, many office employees are transitioning to working from home more often. Although remote work is more commonplace today, there will come a time when offices open their doors once again. As a sense of normalcy begins to approach, safety concerns are on the rise. Office settings are known for easily spreading disease, which leaves many workers wondering, “How will my employer protect me while I’m in the office?” With a few minor modifications, employers can set their employees’ minds at ease while they’re on the premises thanks to personal protective equipment, or PPE.

How Disease Spreads at the Office

Offices are usually warm and tend to lack natural light and effective air purification systems. Besides, there are countless shared surfaces that employees touch all day long. All of these factors combine to create a petri dish where viruses thrive. Warmth fosters bacteria growth on surfaces and without natural light to kill them or an air purifier to filter viruses out of the air, this environment is perfect for virus transmission. 

When it comes to shared surfaces, the surface type matters. If germs land on a metal surface, they’ll only survive for a few hours, but on plastic, they can survive much longer, sometimes days. There are far too many plastic surfaces in an office to count, from pens and keyboards to copy machines and telephones. Just know that they are everywhere. Although metal surfaces are a little less abundant, they’re still things people touch constantly. Some examples of metal surfaces in an office include:

  • Fridge handle
  • Doorknobs
  • Faucets
  • Eating and cooking utensils
  • Toaster oven

What is Personal Protective Equipment?

The official definition of personal protective equipment (PPE) is the clothing and equipment worn or used to protect against hazardous substances or environments. Usually, PPE is required for construction workers, healthcare workers, kitchen workers, and other professions. Now, with all the changes to public health perception, many will feel that an enclosed space with more than a few people in it constitutes a hazardous environment. Offices can require anyone in that situation to wear the appropriate PPE, as an office is definitely a hazardous environment.  

Personal protective equipment examples for all professions include:

  • Respiratory protection: disposable masks and face shields
  • Eye protection: goggles and visors
  • Hearing protection: earmuffs and earplugs
  • Hand protection: gloves and barrier creams
  • Foot protection: shoes and boots
  • Head protection: helmets, hoods, hats
  • Skin protection: hats, long sleeves, sunscreen

PPE for the Office

Personal protective equipment for office workers looks quite different from PPE for construction workers. Office-centric PPE focuses on killing germs to prevent virus transmission and minimize environmental hazards. Let’s explore the best PPE solutions for an office setting.

Sneeze guards

Sneeze guards are a simple and effective way to protect office workers from respiratory droplets. Whether it’s a sneeze, cough, or a discussion that produces droplets, a sneeze guard acts as the perfect shield to stop them in their tracks. Different sneeze guard options will allow you to protect employees in different situations. 

The three sneeze guard types are: 

  • Cubicles – Sneeze guard extenders are perfect for cubicles, and they’re effortless to install. 
  • Reception – Reception is usually a high traffic area where a lot of face-to-face communication takes place. Installing a countertop sneeze guard is the perfect remedy. 
  • Desktop – Your office might not have cubicles, but instead an open plan. If employees share desks or sit at tables for meetings, you’ll want to install desktop sneeze guards.

Sneeze guards are an excellent addition to any office seeking to increase safety, but remember to clean them. Use this guide to ensure you clean them the right way at the right time

Hands-Free Door Opener

A hands-free door opener can take a couple of different forms. One option is simply a piece of hard plastic or metal attached to a doorknob or a handle that allows you to open the door using your forearm instead of your hand. Another option is the step-and-pull, which allows bathrooms and other doors around the office to be opened using your foot instead of your hand. You simply step on a footpad at the bottom of the door and pull with your leg.  

Either of these is a great solution to avoid touching one of those surfaces that people touch throughout the day. One less surface to touch is one less stress for office employees. 

Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer has become so essential to daily life that most people have it on hand at all times. While washing your hands with soap and water is the number one way the CDC recommends preventing disease spread, access to a sink isn’t always available. As long as a hand sanitizer is at least 60% alcohol, it will be effective against germs and viruses that live on the hands.

In the office, hand sanitizer stations should be set up in high traffic areas like the entryway, break room, outside bathrooms, and anywhere else that is high traffic in your office. For the safety of the entire staff, encourage employees to keep their hands as clean as possible.

Antibacterial Wipes

Regularly cleaning the office is essential. Wiping down personal and shared surfaces will kill most virus-causing bacteria that live on those surfaces. The EPA created a list of certified disinfectants that are guaranteed to wipe out harmful germs.

Necessary surfaces to clean:

  • Workstations
  • Keyboards
  • Telephones
  • Handrails
  • Elevator buttons
  • Doorknobs
  • All break room appliances

Masks

Wearing a mask in shared spaces has become routine for many people. When it’s difficult to maintain social distancing guidelines, masks are recommended. It might be impossible to maintain six feet of distance between coworkers at all times, which is why masks should be worn in the office. Employers can offer respirator masks, medical masks, or cloth masks. Any of these will serve as an extra layer of protection.  

The Office is Changing

Office environments are being seen from an entirely new perspective. The opportunity for disease to spread is now considered a real health risk that requires proper PPE to stay safe. Aside from the types of personal protective equipment that have been outlined, you can also find other simple ways to increase office safety. Learn more about office safety and sneeze guards at the Sneeze GuardEZ website.