CREATING A SAFE WORKPLACE FOR THE PANDEMIC AND BEYOND
Employee safety is top of mind as employers consider how to best get workers back to the workplace. With no one-size-fits-all solution, how should companies proceed? Executives of three organizations involved with creating safer workplaces shared their insights with Crain’s Content Studio. How is your organization contributing to a safer workplace? Bill Hood: Vortex Safety Lighting’s ultraviolet (UV) lighting products disinfect both air and surfaces in offices and other workplaces, thus providing an extra layer of defense against COVID-19. Our products use a patented technology called far-UVC 222nm, which refers to the UV light’s 222 nanometer wavelength that makes it safe to use in occupied indoor spaces, not just when no one is present. Organizations hire us to assess their facilities, develop an appropriate UV lighting solution, then install and maintain it. Our goal is to reduce the number of annual superbug and viral infections, the number of patients suffering from these deadly infections, and the burden of the billions of dollars these infections cost our health care system every year. Elbert Walters III: Powering Chicago is composed of members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134 (IBEW) and the Electrical Contractors’ Association of the City of Chicago (ECA). Our members install and retrofit technologies that enhance workplace safety, including modifications to HVAC systems to improve air quality, contactless points of entry to reduce the transmission of germs, and thermal temperature scanners to passively screen for elevated temperatures, which can be a sign of illness. A contactless office with improved air quality is a safer office. John Geraghty: Würth is a single-source solution for businesses needing to safeguard their workplaces from COVID-19. We offer an extensive line of PPE products, including our Sani-Stop stations that are equipped with PPE, and a new medical-grade hand sanitizer gel. We also have an office retrofit service team that assesses, measures and installs clear, scratch-resistant polycarbonate shields, and a group that assists businesses in tastefully transforming workspaces and common areas into safe, aesthetically pleasing environments.
Please describe a specific service or product offering that you’re directing toward this effort. Walters: Our members are upgrading wireless connectivity to ensure that offices meet their internet demands. Since many Chicagoans are working remotely or a hybrid of inoffice and at-home, many employers have seen a need to increase their data speeds and telecommunication efforts. Another benefit to enhancing wireless connectivity in the workplace is the flexibility it provides to modify floor plans to reduce close contact among employees. Also, wall-towall wireless coverage offers more opportunities to install sensors and A/V displays that help monitor and control access and regulate occupancy density. Hood: Our ceiling- and surfacemounted commercial disinfection fixtures emit far-UVC light, which has been shown to significantly reduce pathogens, viruses and other particulate matter on surfaces and in the air of both occupied and unoccupied spaces. We can assess any workspace and recommend specific and effective UV light disinfection solutions that are tailored specifically to that space. Geraghty: We’ve partnered with an American skincare manufacturer to develop our newest product— Lemyn Organics Medical-Grade Hand Sanitizer Gel. It’s made with 97 percent organic ingredients, is dermatologist- and pediatriciantested as safe for sensitive skin, while also deeply hydrating. The formula is 99.9999 percent effective against illness-causing germs in 15 seconds, is 100 percent cruelty-free and vegan, and is USDA certified as a 100 percent bio-based product. What types of customers do you work with? Geraghty: We work with any business that needs help reopening and continuing to operate safely. From small to large, we’ve provided PPE solutions to restaurants, schools, hospitals, hotels, airports, museums,
“UV LIGHTING CAN BE ADDED TO ANY COMPANY’S SAFETY PROTOCOL TO REDUCE THE SPREAD OF COVID-19 AND OTHER PATHOGENS . . . “ —BILL HOOD, VORTEX SAFETY LIGHTING
CEO Würth Baer Supply Co. firstname.lastname@example.org 800-944-2237
CEO Vortex Safety Lighting email@example.com 847-850-0585
sporting arenas and other businesses that serve the public. Walters: Whether it’s bringing power to a new high-rise building in downtown Chicago, installing solar panels on the roof of someone’s home in the suburbs, lighting a new distribution warehouse or installing the infrastructure needed for electric
vehicles, Powering Chicago members are ready to handle any job. Our members are trained to handle commercial, residential, industrial, and renewable energy systems, including a long list of specialty services. Hood: We serve all kinds of commercial customers including
ELBERT WALTERS III Director Powering Chicago firstname.lastname@example.org 312-989-0724
hotels, high-rise buildings, warehouses, office space, nursing homes, schools, medical offices and production facilities, including food processing plants. Each customer has specific needs for disinfection and we help them make good decisions as to which products to use, where they should be placed and how they should be best used and maintained.
bringing clarity to a complex world
POLYCARBONATE wurthessentials.com 877-218-6001
CREATING A SAFE WORKPLACE FOR THE PANDEMIC AND BEYOND When speaking with your customers, what’s the number one workplace safety question or concern you’re hearing? Walters: Many Chicagoland employers are debating when and how to bring their employees back safely. To help with the transition, we developed a contactless office e-book that demonstrates all the technologies that can be implemented to ensure the safest possible return to the workplace. Examples include radio-frequency identification (RFID) card readers for touchless access to an office suite, automatic lighting and water controls, advanced air filtration systems to regularly circulate fresh air into an office, and upgraded communication services to keep remote workers connected to the office. When integrated into offices, the technologies also increase flexibility and help monitor the realtime data used to assess workplace health and safety.
Hood: Unfortunately, there are still things we don’t know about COVID-19 and the new variants that are being identified. The vaccination rollout has gone slower than expected and not everyone is on board to get it. Customers are justifiably unsure about exactly how to ensure worker safety. Social distancing is difficult to adhere to 100 percent of the time, and customers want additional measures to keep workers from getting infected. Our products disinfect air and surfaces in the workplace, reducing and eliminating the need to wipe down keypads, pens, screens, keyboards, cash registers, appliance handles, light switches, remote controls, sinks, door handles, tables and more. Geraghty: In addition to wanting to make sure that their associates are safe, our customers also want to be perceived as employers that “talk the talk” and “walk the walk” with regard to office safety. Many of these customers are also struggling with requirements and restrictions
“IMPROVED AIR FILTRATION, ANTIMICROBIAL WORK SURFACES, TOUCH-FREE DOORS AND POLICIES CONCERNING COMMON AREAS WILL BE THE NEW STANDARDS.” —JOHN GERAGHTY, WÜRTH BAER SUPPLY CO.
posed by local health departments. We’re thankful that we’re able to help them navigate these challenges and create solutions to exceed these requirements and offer confidence to employees and customers. What’s the most important component or upgrade that a business can add to ensure that its workers are as safe as possible when they return to the workplace? Walters: While there’s no single component or upgrade that’s going to eliminate the risk of COVID-19 spreading in a workplace, you can mitigate the risk by the strategic use of technology. For example, thermal temperature scanners in a lobby can detect elevated temperatures of those entering the building, which may be a sign of illness. RFID scanners can automatically detect which floor an employee is going to when they enter an elevator so there’s no need to physically touch any of the buttons. Once in the office, RFIDs can be used to automatically open doors, and timed lighting controls guarantee that light switches never have to be touched. Building wide, HVAC systems play an important role too. This all works together to create the safest possible workplace for employees.
Hood: UV lighting can be added to any company’s safety protocol to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens, thus allowing people to gather with an added layer of protection. Far-UVC patented technology disinfects both air and surfaces and is safe to use in occupied spaces, not just when no one is present. Most workplaces have unique features that must be considered in order to use the technology most effectively. Our personnel understand the unique features and problems associated with specific infection sources and routes. They can provide confidential, comprehensive, customized plans as well as installation, operator training and follow-up. Geraghty: While a total team approach and an ongoing commitment to creating and maintaining a safe work environment is vital, additional preventative steps must be made to ensure that employees remain safe. Masks, sanitizer and disinfectant should be readily available to all employees throughout the workplace. Our Sani-Stop, which can be custom branded, is a great option to store all essential PPE in a durable, secure, weatherproof and professional location. There’s no better way to show your employees and customers that you care about their safety than by making that investment. How are technology innovations impacting your product/service offerings? Walters: Many of the technology examples we’ve described here have been around for quite a while. It’s how they’re now being used to combat the spread of COVID-19 that’s new. Members of the unionized electrical industry are among the most highly trained workers in the country, and they’ve quickly adapted to new uses for existing technologies so that employers can provide the safest workplace possible for their staffs. Geraghty: As we all know, one of the symptoms of COVID-19 is a body temperature greater than 100.4°F. Requiring employees to measure their temperature and sanitize prior to office entry is essential. Temperature-scanning devices, which can be mounted on the Sani-Stop, help to prevent potential workplace outbreaks of COVID-19. Connecting temperature scanning with app technology is the next step for Human Resource departments. In your opinion, what’s the biggest hurdle in creating a COVID-safe working environment? Hood: Creating a COVID-safe working environment requires
educating organizations about the latest technological breakthroughs available to battle COVID in ways not previously possible. Companies like Vortex are partnering with customers—being flexible with financial terms and even leasing equipment when appropriate— so that businesses can do what’s best for their workers. Geraghty: While as a business, we can take all the necessary precautions to create a safe environment, we can’t control what our employees or visitors do on their personal time. The solution is to educate them on COVID-19 preventative practices by consistently communicating in person and via email, and using things like signage and floor decals to remind them to sanitize, wear a mask and maintain social distancing guidelines. Walters: One hurdle is determining who’s responsible for installations that can create more COVIDsafe working environments. For something like the ionization of HVAC systems, that’s likely the responsibility of the building owner or property manager. In individual workspaces, it may be the employer who needs to invest in the modifications. Coordination between all of the stakeholders is important because the modifications need to be part of a holistic plan for a COVID-safe working environment. Implementing a solution here or there without considering how it can be supported by what’s being put in place elsewhere in the building creates unnecessary gaps in safety. While a relatively COVID-safe working environment is possible through technology and processes, everyone in the workplace needs to play a role in making it work. Are there programs or initiatives available to assist companies with the cost of retrofitting a workplace for the “new normal”? Geraghty: Federal and state governments have allocated funds to organizations, such as educational institutions, to retrofit and prepare buildings for reopening. Unfortunately, these funds may not be available to all businesses, and the retrofits may be a substantial investment. The employees’ health and safety, as well as the confidence of customers, will ultimately justify the expense. Hood: While there currently aren’t any government programs or grants to assist specifically with the coming proliferation of far-UVC light technology to kill bacteria, we plan to offer leasing and other financial options to customers. Businesses need to implement safety measures quickly and they can’t be expected to foot the bill themselves—they’ll either cut
SPONSORED CONTENT corners or pass the cost on to their customers. Creative solutions are needed immediately and will benefit everyone. How has working remotely impacted your own employees? Geraghty: We never expected the pandemic to last as long as it has, nor did we plan for the work-fromhome arrangement to be a permanent solution. We’ve experienced a loss of collective collaboration as a result of too many conference calls and video meetings. People, by nature, are social creatures and the human connection between employees and our customers has suffered, along with productivity. In the face of potential economic uncertainty, this missing connectivity is more important than ever. This is why we’ve invested greatly to prepare our own workplace for full reopening and are qualified to assist other businesses with similar initiatives through our new division, Würth Essentials. Walters: Powering Chicago’s union electricians and contractors were deemed essential workers when the pandemic struck last spring and since then have worked tirelessly to ensure that proper social distancing and safety protocols are met on the jobsite. At the IBEWNECA Technical Institute—where union electricians undergo a five-year apprenticeship program— proper PPE, social distancing, and increased safety measures have been implemented to ensure that future union electricians have the training necessary to keep themselves and their customers safe. Hood: The mental health of many of our employees may be suffering as they’ve lost the important social aspect of a workplace. Collaboration is a key ingredient for the success of any venture and a healthy, collaborative environment propels both businesses and employees. What long-term workplace design changes do you foresee happening as a result of lessons learned in 2020? Hood: The continued development of disinfection technology is going to play a major role in creating safe spaces where people can come together with peace of mind. HVAC systems will be designed to disinfect the air in an entire space. Office layouts will have generous spacing between them, and hybrid work schedules between home and office will become the standard when and where it’s reasonable. Geraghty: Improved air filtration, antimicrobial work surfaces, touchfree doors and policies concerning
common areas will be the new standards. While currently not the norm in the United States, we envision more workplaces installing windows that can be opened to allow fresh air to circulate. We anticipate more companies offering increased outdoor spaces, thus giving employees another option for open-air breaks and meetings. The innovative options for workplace designs, both indoors and out, are endless. Walters: Employers have an opportunity moving forward to close off their office spaces and focus more on individual offices for their employees. For those employers that want to maintain the open office concept, implementing the safety measures featured in our contactless office e-book can help keep their existing office structure while making their space as safe as possible. An increased demand in contactless points of entry and lighting will play a central role in maintaining a safe environment for employees, and enhanced data communication services will only help strengthen the connection for those choosing to work remotely. How do you see those investments paying dividends over time when the pandemic ends? Hood: Even after COVID-19 is under control it’s not going to disappear, similar to our experiences with influenza epidemics. Our products will continue to keep workers as safe as possible from current and future viral threats. It’s a good ongoing safety practice. Companies that are installing these systems are making safer spaces that translate to healthier employees, customers feeling safe and the ability to lead their industries out of the pandemic. It’s definitely a competitive advantage to have the latest far-UVC lighting technology installed. It’s also a very powerful action to take toward risk mitigation and doing your part toward protecting mankind from the threats of a pandemic.
ABOUT THE PANELISTS JOHN GERAGHTY is CEO of Würth Baer Supply Co., a business unit of Würth Line Craft North America and Würth Group that specializes in commercial and residential building product solutions and accessories for hospitality, office and kitchen environments. Its new division, Wurth Essentials, offers return-to-office solutions to operate in the post-pandemic “new normal.” Geraghty has 30 years of building product sales and management experience in the manufacturing and distribution sectors. He previously held executive roles at Blum Inc., a leading manufacturer of kitchen hardware.
BILL HOOD is CEO of Vortex Safety Lighting, which integrates patented UV disinfection technology to create safer spaces for humans. A lifelong entrepreneur and lighting industry specialist, he is always working on his next innovative product or service. His current passion is 222 nanometer ultraviolet light, which has been shown to kill pathogens without harming humans. As a serial entrepreneur, he understands first-hand the challenges that businesses are facing in the pandemic—and will face going forward into a rapidly changing business world.
ELBERT WALTERS III is the director of Powering Chicago, an electrical industry labor management partnership of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 134 electricians and the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) of the City of Chicago. He leads Powering Chicago’s more than 100 annual philanthropic and community impact initiatives and plays a key role in its daily operations as the voice of metro Chicago’s unionized electrical industry. He is a longtime member of IBEW Local 134 and formerly served as its business representative.
Walters: We’re talking about investing in changes to the workplace now because of COVID-19, but all of these measures will generally make workplaces safer and healthier environments. Common colds are one example of something most of us
just accepted before that we probably won’t have to experience as often in a contactless office. Increasing air quality also contributes to a healthier working environment. There’s concrete value in creating healthier workplaces as employees are out
sick less frequently, but there’s also an employee engagement angle too. People will want to work for employers that have done everything possible to help them stay healthy long after the pandemic has ended.
Geraghty: Aside from the benefit of improving productivity and re-engaging employees’ creative collaboration, these initiatives have other benefits for the long-term. This pandemic has put a renewed focus on employees’ health. We believe that this attention will remain and we’ll continue to improve our health and wellness programs. We all know that increased hand washing helps reduce the spread of illness, and we don’t envision the use of hand sanitizer to decrease anytime soon. We look forward to reducing absenteeism caused by employee illnesses through the continued preventative measures in place.
“PEOPLE WILL WANT TO WORK FOR EMPLOYERS THAT HAVE DONE EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO HELP THEM STAY HEALTHY LONG AFTER THE PANDEMIC HAS ENDED.” —ELBERT WALTERS III, POWERING CHICAGO
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