Sneeze Guards and Protecting the Workplace

The recent pandemic has upended the business world and put nearly tens of millions out of jobs in the U.S. At the same time, it has caused a seismic shift in the way many organizations operate, the biggest change that more companies’ functions are done remotely.

But together with the work-from-home aspect, the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic will fundamentally change hiring and recruiting practices long after the pandemic has passed.

For those lucky enough to keep their jobs, and for those of us in professions where it’s possible, working from home has become the new normal.

But as the current outbreaks in the U.S show, it’s dangerous to assume we’re now safe from the threat of the virus.

So, what do we need to consider as we take those first tentative steps back into the office?

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First, how does the virus spread and what it means for office workers? 

The open office has already taken over the contemporary business. While debated, these open, large spaces – punctuated by phone booths and conference rooms – are the design of the day, and their advocates claim they improve collaboration. However, open offices are also like a shared petri dish.

While there’s plenty of things we still don’t know about SARS-CoV-2, the new virus that caused COVID-19, we do know it spreads most effectively from individual to individual in droplet form. Those infected emit these droplets when they cough, sneeze and even chat.

Those droplets can be carried easily through the atmosphere- for instance, when an infected person sneezes in the direction of someone else close by- or they can settle on almost any type of surface, where they can be active for hours.

The new Coronavirus enters the body of a non-infected person through contact with mucous membranes, in the eyes, nose, mouth and attaches to cells in the respiratory system to establish infection.

As we’re previously mentioned, in many workplaces, employees work in an open-plan office, share small office space or rely on “hot desks” that are shared between several different workers on different shifts.

Employees in these situations are often asked to work for long periods in environments that make it hard to maintain the prescribed 4m distance rule.

This combination, plus several hours spent in close contact, maximizing the risk of virus transmission. This is exemplified by an outbreak in an open-plan call centre in Korea, Seoul, where nearly 43% of employees contacted COVID-19 during February and March.

What are Sneeze Guards?

Elected officials and public health experts have emphasized again and again that social distancing is one of the best tools we have to slow the coronavirus outbreak. However, numerous companies are still unable to efficiently manage to keep employees six feet or more apart, simply due to the complexity of their business. Consider the interaction between a bank customer and a teller, workers in side-by-side cubicles, or assembly-line employees standing shoulder to shoulder in food processing buildings. In such situations, and many more like them, safe social distancing cannot be attained, and a shield may help limit the spread of pathogens.

You may have already seen large plexiglass sneeze guards in various groceries stores around or images, online that display what the future of your office or gym might look like.

A sneeze guard acts as a protective barrier, typically made from either acrylic or plexiglass, that hinder viruses or bacteria from spreading. It works by blocking the spray of spittle from a person’s nose or mouth before it can contaminate other areas.

According to SignHero, convenience stores in the U.S already began installing sneeze guards back in March in order to protect clerks by obstructing virus-containing droplets that would otherwise touch them when communicating with clients.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention advises health establishments dealing with non-COVID-19 public health operations that require face-to-face interaction with customers “install physical barriers, such as plexiglass sneeze guards, if possible.”

Do Sneeze Guards Work? 

Oftentimes, close interactions are simply inevitable even with safety measures in place and pandemic restrictions. Protective screens are a good defensive mechanism for those working in a shared space. Such barriers are functional for back-to-back, side-by-side or other similar working arrangements.

Although they’ve only been in use for a short time, sneeze guards have given many corporates added relief against the expanse of contaminated respiratory droplets.

With safety being a top priority in the corporate world, such products are a favourable addition for creating a healthier atmosphere.

Although sneeze guards are not medical devices, they have PPE qualities which contribute to the transmission slowdown – even when an employee or a customer aren’t wearing masks. What’s more, sneeze guards provide customers with an added reassurance of safety as they carefully re-enter the so-called normalcy of everyday life.

Installing guards demonstrates a company’s dedication to the health of their employees. Sneeze guards may also prove an excellent reminder to use proper sanitation to avoid the new COVID-19’s spread.

Shields work best when they’re used alongside other proven, reliable methods such as enhanced hygiene practices and cleaning, social distancing measures, PPE, and swift changes in how services are provided, especially in the hard-hit hospitality and commerce industries.

Some of the most efficient sneeze guards are the tall and wide ones, as they’re enough to shield an employee whether they’re sitting or standing.

These calculations are founded on an average-sized customer who is between five to six feet tall, where the shield should be able to cover the full interaction.

We simply can’t help but wonder what will the new normalcy look like when the new COVID-19 uncertainty finally ends? Many of us are prone to believe that the adjustments to life that were thought to be momentary will become permanent including the habitual washing of hands, wearing the masks, and of course, sneeze shields any place we interact in close proximity.

As it seems, many companies have already adjusted to the new normal, although employees are still facing ongoing mass confusion.

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