As employees begin to return to the workplace, they need to have confidence that their office is a safe and healthy environment.

A lot has been said and written about returning to the office, with businesses adopting various hybrid models. While catching up with work colleagues they have not seen face-to-face for many months will be celebrated, there is still work to be done to give employees confidence that the buildings they are returning to are not going to lead them to catching COVID-19.

Jennifer McIntyre, the Head of Smart Infrastructure Engineering at Siemens Australia, said technology that enables data capture and analysis, connectivity, monitoring and control is becoming the new baseline for the smart buildings of today.

“Understanding what it is and where it is headed is critical,” Ms McIntyre said. “Firstly, there is a need to reduce the reliance on manual and time-consuming tasks such as QR code check-ins and social distancing signage, which often see human error or simple complacency.

We want to reduce the effort we put in and have our buildings functioning in the background to provide a healthy and safe environment. That is not about adding a lot of tech, it is about using what is already available with just a few modifications.”

Temperature matters

Ms McIntyre said it is well known that COVID-19 thrives in cooler environments and becomes aerosolised in a less humid environment. She said that according to experiments documented in the Lancet Microbe Journal in early 2020, the increase in humidity reduces a pathogen’s ability to be aerosolised.

Higher temperatures, above 30 degrees Celsius, can decrease the half-life of the virus from days to as low as two hours. “Even an increase of 1.5 degrees from base room comfort, which is around 22 degrees, can result in a 10 to 25 per cent reduction in half-life.

This has minimal impact on comfort in most circumstances,” Ms McIntyre said. “Additionally, most buildings have the air system on during the day and either off or at a low energy setting when unoccupied.

We should be looking at introducing a defence mode and a decontamination mode, which will change the indoor air conditions to help deactivate and reduce pathogens in the air and on surfaces.

“By monitoring what is in the air, a building can be programmed to change modes overnight or when decontamination is required, as well as to implement defence modes even while the building is occupied.

“This means an increase of fresh air from outside in addition to an increase of temperature and humidity which can help dilute and deactivate viruses and pathogens.”

The role of technology

Ms McIntyre said technology also has a role to play in how we clean facilities, especially those which have a confirmed COVID positive case; where you want a deep clean that doesn’t put the cleaning staff at risk by simply entering a room.

“One solution is an ultraviolet light system which can deliver a broad spectrum of UV light paired with the introduction of increased fresh air, high temperature and humidity.

These will provide that first level of sanitisation without a person having to enter a room where a COVID positive case was detected.

“Additionally, there is track and trace wearable technology, which can provide not only information on occupant density, but there are features which enable digital contact tracing, thus reducing reliance on QR codes and providing a more accurate representation of who a person interacted with, within the building, in an exposure event.

“To put it all together, occupancy and environmental monitoring are critical to providing relevant inputs to enable intelligent controls systems to respond to changing conditions and preemptively provide a safer environment for employees to return to.”

This sponsored editorial is brought to you by Siemens. For more information, visit siemens.com.au.

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