Two critical suggestions for minimizing airborne transmission in the workplace

Many of us are planning to return to the office and want our teams to feel confident in all safety protocols in light of the current pandemic.

Last week, Dr Alan Hedge, Professor in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis, Cornell University, presented on Workplace Safety… particularly on airborne transmission of our present virus. This presentation was on behalf of an commercial industry webinar by Humanscale, one of our trusted consulting and manufacturing partners.

During his excellent and thorough presentation, Dr Hedge made two critical suggestions as to how to minimize airborne transmission.

Here’s a summary …



Whether you were able to tune in or missed it live, this summary outlines research and best practices from a recent webinar with Dr. Alan Hedge, world renowned ergonomics and indoor air quality expert, along with input from Humanscale’s in-house experts.

When it comes to minimizing the airborne transmission of COVID-19 in your office, it’s more about managing and controlling air flow than physical layouts.

“We should really worry about small droplets because those can actually stay in the air a long time, travel a long distance, and stay active after 16 hours.”
– Dr. Alan Hedge

A number of recent studies have shown that COVID-19 can travel much farther than previously thought and can enter HVAC systems. This is why simply distancing by 6 feet (or more) is not enough to ensure safety in the office. Here is what’s recommended to manage and minimize the airborne spread of COVID-19, and future viruses, in the office.

Recommendation #1 – Focus on Filtration of Building Air 

About 55% of microdroplets are captured by separation panels or pushed down to the floor. The remaining 45% rise above office panels or clear separation barriers where they should then be captured by the HVAC air flow and moved to air vents. For this reason, it’s important to consider effective HVAC air filters.

In his talk, Dr. Hedge recommended filters that are at the MERV 13 level or higher. There are also new air filtering technologies that are being developed and are particularly effective in killing airborne viruses. Germicidal ultraviolet light, for instance, reduces 99% of the microbial load. Other types filtering technology, like “Far UV-C,” cold plasma systems and nickel foam, are currently being designed for commercial applications.

Recommendation #2 – Implement Localized Protection at the Workstation

Organizations around the world, including the CDC and the UK government, have recommended installing separation panels as part of a safe return to work program. Separation panels work to both capture and contain microdroplets at a workstation. In his webinar, Dr. Hedge showed two simulations of what happens to the microdroplets dispelled when someone sneezes at a workstation. One simulation shows a desk without panels where microdroplets move quickly across the room and encounter someone 8 feet away. The other shows a desk with 30″ tall panels where the microdroplets are stopped. View the video of the simulation…

When choosing panels, it’s important to consider height, design, ease of cleaning and durability. In terms of height, Dr. Hedge suggested that 36″ would be ideal. However the simulation above was done using 30″ panels and other experts have suggested that performance would be similar as long as panels are 24″ high. A second simulation, which incorporates vertical panels plus an overhead top panel, showed microdroplets circling back and exiting the rear of the workstation into the breathing zone of individuals. For this reason, we do not recommend adding an overhead top panel to a workstation.

Controlling the movement of microdroplets away from employees’ breathing zones employing a filter system that can capture, or deactivate, viruses and with barrier panels is the best way to minimize airborne transmission and the overall viral load in a facility.


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