Advice and Opinion

GBCSA and Zutari launch free ‘Safe Return to Workplace’ guideline

Office / workspace

The Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA) and Zutari (formerly known as Aurecon) have launched a ‘Safe Return to the Workplace’ guideline to help facilitate a responsible reopening of local offices during Covid-19.

Georgina Smit, Head of Technical at the GBCSA says that a realization is emerging in that lockdown cannot be a long-term strategy because of the need for human interaction.

Although a ‘new normal’ is emerging in office working, it will need to respond not only to a changed world of work but will have to manage health-related risks as well,” she added.   

Developed by GBCSA and Zutari, the technical guide for existing buildings identifies best practice recommendations for a healthy and safe return. The guide is available for free and it is aimed at building owners, facilities managers, office managers, and tenants.

Commercial buildings are not typically designed to standards aimed at minimising the spread of infectious disease to the extent of hospitals that are built for this purpose. However, there are various measures that can be implemented to reduce the risk of transmission,” said Martin Smith, an experienced mechanical engineer and Technical Director at Zutari.

The framework and guideline consist of five categories and forty-five initiatives put together to understand the range of options that should be considered when implementing the return to the workplace, with safety as the key priority. It provides an overview that identifies infection control strategies at various levels of decision-making and responsibility.

Smit explains that “the guidelines are set up in a structure like the Green Star rating tools with various interventions grouped under a number of applicable categories. A short aim description and a background is provided for each initiative. The guide puts forward a recommended best practice for each initiative. It is a user-friendly starting point for stakeholders to understand what needs to be considered for a safe workplace.”

The guide considers initiatives related to management, personal behaviour, indoor air quality, safe water systems and design for safety. Each category has been collated around the point of control within the building in mind. For example, the management category highlights the need for mental health support services that encourage resiliency and ensures that discrimination does not occur.

Smit said that the first step for those interested in applying this to a building they work in is a healthy building assessment audit. “The purpose of this is to provide an understanding of the status of the building and its related services and address the preparedness of management and staff to handle health-related risks. It serves as a gap analysis of your building’s status in relation to desired outcomes and requirements of this guide.”

Zutari’s Smith emphasised that the role of air quality needs to be considered. “You really want to address building ventilation rates to ensure sufficient ventilation or outdoor air supply rates are provided to minimise a build-up of pathogens or contaminants suspended in the air. Good amounts of fresh air also contribute to occupant wellness, which could have translated into productivity benefits.”

When considering mitigation strategies for your building, it is important to understand how infections such as Covid-19 spread. The risk associated with the following four most common transmissions routes should be addressed when using this guide: person to person via macro droplets; airborne transmission; fomite transmission and faecal-oral transmission. 

Mitigating risks associated with each one of these transmission routes has a massive impact on the way a building and its occupants need to be managed to ensure everyone’s safety,” Smith added. 

It is the responsibility of organisations encouraging staff to return to work to ensure due processes and protocols are followed for the safety of employees. Companies need to be compliant with the SA Government Coronavirus (COVID-19) Regulations and Guidelines and this guideline provides free additional robust support for the South African commercial and retail sector, through the lens of green building priorities.

The GBCSA and Zutari urged stakeholders to “use this opportunity to facilitate the shift to creating healthy spaces for people to work, collaborate and contribute to creating a better place for all of us.” 

Download the forty-five initiatives: