OSHA, COVID & Ventilation Suggestions

OSHA, COVID & Ventilation Suggestions

As the COVID-19 pandemic has gone on, we’ve learned a lot. You may recall that in the early days of the pandemic, we didn’t really know how it passed from person to person. Was it spread purely through larger respiratory droplets, like the kind a person ejects when they sneeze? What about smaller respiratory particulates, like the ones we expel when we breathe and talk? And was it possible to get it simply by touching an object, such as a tool at work or someone’s credit card?

Over time, of course, we’ve learned more. For example, while there may be some exceptions, it’s now apparent that people don’t generally get infected with COVID because the COVID virus was on a surface they touched. Likewise, we’re beginning to learn that while COVID can definitely be transmitted from those larger-sized droplets we might expel when we sneeze or cough (and which tend to fall to the ground quite quickly, within six feet or so), it seems COVID can also be caught from smaller, lighter particles we expel when we talk and breath (and which can float for extended periods of time and can travel large distances in the air).

As a result, cleaning surfaces seems less important and things like keeping windows open and using better ventilation seem more important.

In this article, we’ll review some recommendations for ventilation that OSHA provides in their January 20, 2021 COVID guidance.

Two OSHA-Recommended Sources: The CDC and ASHRAE

It’s important to recognize expertise and OSHA does it in their own guidance by suggesting we all check out the CDC’s guidance on improving ventilation in buildings to reduce the risk of COVID infections and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Guidance for Building Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

So in addition what we’ll say here and what you’ll learn from OSHA, be sure to check out those two sources for more on COVID & ventilation.

 Some Tips from OSHA on COVID and Ventilation

Here are some of the tips OSHA calls out in their January, 2021 COVID guidance for using building ventilation to reduce COVID risks:

  • Make sure ventilation systems are operating correctly
  • Make sure ventilation is adequate for the number of occupants in each building space
  • When you can, increase ventilation rates
  • When possible, allow more fresh air to enter buildings by opening doors and windows
  • Place fans in open windows to increase air flow. Be careful not to position fans so as to push contaminated air directly from person-to-person. One good strategy is to position the fan in an open window to push air OUT of the window (drawing fresh air from other windows).
  • Turn off demand-controlled ventilation
  • Eliminate or reduce recirculation of air when possible. One way to do this is by opening minimum outdoor air dampers.
  • Upgrade central air filters to MERV-13, the grade that ASHRAE recommends. If you can’t upgrade to MERV-13, upgrade to the highest grade that’s compatible with your filter rack. To limit air bypass, seal the edges of the filter.
  • Check air filters to be certain they’re installed correctly and are within their recommended service life. Change filters if they’re beyond their service life.
  • Limit the amount of time ventilation systems are not operating. If possible, run ventilation systems continuously.
  • Check to be sure fans in bathrooms, kitchens, and cooking areas are working properly.
  • When possible, use HEPA filtration systems, especially in higher-risk areas, including areas where it’s more likely there will be a person with COVID or there’s an increased risk of getting COVID.
  • Inspect the positions of your supply and exhaust air diffusers or dampers to generate more clean-to-less-clean air movement.
  • If possible, use ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) to combat COVID-19.

For even more information about mitigating COVID risks at work, check out our recorded webinar, Putting Together a COVID Prevention Plan at Work.

Jeff Dalto, Senior Learning & Performance Improvement Manager
Jeff is a learning designer and performance improvement specialist with more than 20 years in learning and development, 15+ of which have been spent working in manufacturing, industrial, and architecture, engineering & construction training. Jeff has worked side-by-side with more than 50 companies as they implemented online training. Jeff is an advocate for using evidence-based training practices and is currently completing a Masters degree in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning from Boise State University. He writes the Vector Solutions | Convergence Training blog and invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.

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