Call Us: +61 03 9328 4800

Key outcomes:

  • Identify high risk locations
  • Optimise ventilation system
  • Optimise desk layout to minimise infection risk
  • Develop COVID safe office spaces

All workplaces now need to consider indoor health and safety in offices as a serious and necessary concern. Studies have shown that indoor environments can facilitate the rapid spread of viruses. Fomites, such as doorknobs, are easily identifiable as sources of contact where viruses can spread on surfaces. Although contactless processes and surface sterilization can reduce physical transmission, airborne transmission is increasingly being considered critical and may be the dominant transmission mode in many situations. It is harder to visualize and control droplet and airborne transmission vectors. Coughing and sneezing commonly release large droplets, while breathing and talking can potentially release smaller airborne droplets. These droplets and particles then spread through the environment, reaching nearby people and spreading infections. Minimising these risks is a key part of having a safe, healthy, and happy workforce.

Covid-19 drew attention to many simple ways to reduce the risk of infection, such as regular sanitising of high contact surfaces, maintaining at least 1.5 m of separation and the use of masks, however understanding the workplace layout and ventilation patterns can significantly improve the ability to quantify and minimise risks.

particle tracks for droplets from a coughing office worker. With a moderate ventilation rate they rapidly settle to the floor. With a very high ventilation rate they follow chaotic paths and spread over a wide area.

Figure 1: An example of transmission of droplets released by a cough for two different ventilation arrangements. Very high local ventilation rates, like the right hand image can significantly increase the risk of droplets reaching other occupants.

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modelling of indoor air quality has shown that minor changes can have a large effect on transport of virus laden droplets, for example Figure 1 shows the difference in spread between droplets generated by a cough in a space with two different ventilation arrangements. An inappropriate ventilation arrangement can significantly increase the travel distance of droplets.

Other options for mitigation include the optimal placement of barriers, or locating desk spaces to minimise impacts on other desks. Figure 2 shows a heat map of an office area floor play, showing concentrations of contaminants exhaled by a single occupant. Fine particles exhaled by an infected occupant are seen to reach many of the existing desks. To reduce this risk, improved ventilation rates and locations, utilising fresh or filtered air is a viable option.

A contour plane through head height in an office with four pods. The contours show how the contours spread to nearby desks, but with the right ventilation setup they can be contained to a small area.

Figure 2: Contours showing a heat map of particles exhaled by a sick worker within an office. The red region shows the infected employee’s desk. This ventilation regime results in high levels of contaminants being observed within the pod surrounding the infected worker and the connecting walkway. Additionally, particles are spreading from the walkway into the adjacent pods.

Synergetics can help you make your office safe by modeling any changes to the office layout or ventilation. This approach ensures that the changes are done correctly and deliver the desired results, while also minimizing costs. By optimizing the designs, you can generate the best results for minimal expenditure, and quantify the benefits to demonstrate improvements and advantages to stakeholders. If you’re interested in making your office safe, contact Synergetics for more details.

For further ventilation examples, see our building services page.