What Does Safe Reopening Look Like for Businesses?

By Judy Wohlt, PMI Communications Team, Valek and Co.

As more states ease restrictions related to COVID-19, businesses are following local, state and federal guidelines to safely reopen. While companies are taking steps to keep workers healthy, they also need to address the safety of plumbing systems that were idle during the shutdown.

Temperature checks, protective measures set to be new norm

Temperature checks, physical distancing, enhanced disinfection measures, and increased personal protective equipment (PPE) are becoming the new norm for many of those returning to work. Companies also continue to follow guidelines by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Since the start of the crisis, PMI member companies – deemed as essential businesses by the federal government – have been following CDC and OSHA guidelines and taking extra precautions to keep workers safe and plan to continue doing so. For example, PMI member Kohler Co. provides workers with masks, takes their temperatures before shifts, and has installed plexiglass dividers in areas where workers can’t be separated by at least six feet, according to a recent Wisconsin Public Radio article.

Many PMI members have provided their workers with tools and processes to protect them from the virus, adding hand sanitizing stations throughout their offices and plants; providing masks and face shields for employees; requiring workers to stay at least six feet apart when possible; limiting travel; staggering shifts; and performing additional deep cleaning of common spaces, breakrooms and work areas.

Because individuals can carry COVID-19 from their workplaces to their homes and vice versa, health officials continue urging everyone to be diligent with washing their hands more thoroughly and regularly, using physical distancing whenever possible, and wearing masks at work and when visiting restaurants, grocery stores and other places open to the public.

Safeguards needed before opening shuttered buildings

Many building water and plumbing systems have been sitting idle during the crisis lockdown, causing concern over health risks associated with stagnant water and higher levels of bacteria, including Legionella.

There are several precautions businesses can take with their water systems to keep workers and the public safe before opening their doors again. Proper water flushing and disinfecting techniques are among the most prevalent measures recommended by plumbing safety experts.

Flushing water in a building’s pipes at least weekly can help replace all old water with new water and help remove sediments in pipe walls, reports a recent Fast Company article co-authored by Andrew Whelton, associate professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University and a past speaker at PMI Manufacturing Success Conferences. Faucets, water heaters, toilets and other water systems, including cooling towers, require regular water turnover.

To help businesses reduce water safety risks as they re-open, PMI member Sloan Valve Company has published a Building Commission Guide. The guide outlines how to prepare commercial restrooms for reopening and recommends several specific flushing procedures for flushometers on water closets, urinals, tank-type toilets, and automatic faucets.

NSF International, a PMI member and a public health organization, recently discussed the importance of the consistent use of disinfectant residual, such as chlorine, when a building has been underused during COVID-19. In an article on its website, NSF says maintaining a consistent disinfectant residual through regular use or flushing and with associated treatments, including filtration and pH adjustment, is essential to diminishing biofilm growth. NSF also offers “COVID-19 and its Effect on Your Building Water Health,” which discusses top risk areas and risk prevention steps.

For more facility safeguarding tips, view the CDC’s “Guidance for Reopening Buildings After Prolonged Shutdown or Reduced Operation” and “Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility”.