Generally we think of workplace access control as protecting your facility from a physical threat, like an intruder threatening the employees or property.

But in the wake of coronavirus, a facility’s access control measures have extended to ensuring no potential COVID-positive employees or visitors, who would be otherwise harmless, are granted entry to the facility. Allowing access to one such individual can be enough to create a domino effect in an office environment, causing the virus to spread from one employee to another, even before symptoms are present. As workplaces adapt to social distancing guidelines in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies are drastically changing how their facilities are accessed.

Although some Americans can work safely from home, other industries require employees in-house to function properly, and these facilities have had to make changes to their physical access control systems and everyday routines to keep the same level of security at their facilities. In fact, bolstered workplace access control systems may be required in order to ensure the safety of employees.

Social Distancing at Your Gate

As employees come through the facility’s entrance gate, they may typically be greeted by a security officer to check their credentials before granting them access to the facility. With social distancing guidelines, however, this interaction should occur with as little face-to-face and physical item contact as possible.

To adapt to this, the facility’s guard shack can be outfitted with an exterior mounted ID scanner so the employee can scan the identification themselves, or the officer can use a handheld scanner to verify the ID through their side window. In both cases, there is a physical barrier between the guard and the employee to protect both parties.

In this scenario, the guard’s (or guard shack’s) scanner system would be outfitted with an additional screen showing the employee’s photo ID. This way the officer can verify the person’s identity through their window before lifting the entrance’s gate.

Protecting Staff at The Building’s Entrance

After entering the facility gates, there is another security hurdle that facilities must handle: ensuring COVID-positive people do not enter. Many businesses have opted to install screening areas at their entrances to take people’s temperatures before entering. However, the employee taking temperatures will also need protection themselves. They can use PPE to protect from virus transmission, but, standing outside the entrance of the building, they are still subject to the extreme temperatures and precipitation.

To provide a comfortable, safe environment to take employee temperatures, we have provided temperature screening booths that can be easily installed by a facility’s entrance. Our temperature screening booths provide an enclosed, HVAC-controlled environment with an interior mounted countertop, interior lighting, and electric charging stations. When not checking temperatures through the sliding glass window, the booth offers a fully functioning workstation, so the employee can take care of other businesses in between entrants. These buildings are semi-permanent and portable, so if they are no longer needed in the future, they can be repurposed around the facility at a later date.

Some facilities do not have the appropriate space at the entrance of their facility to add a screening booth or may require a larger number of temperature screeners at their facility. In these instances, installing a new screening area inside the building may be the most efficient option. This area could act as an interior vestibule added to the building entrance, keeping the screening area separate from the rest of the facility.

Screeners can be stationed behind protected barriers within the screening vestibule, allowing them to permit or deny entry depending on infrared thermometer results. In addition to checking temperatures, screeners may question employees on recent health developments, such as having a new cough, trouble breathing, muscle aches, sore throat, and so on. Employees should be socially distant and wear masks in this area.

Ultimately it is important to note that temperature screening, while a useful way to protect the workplace, will not be 100% effective. Asymptomatic COVID-positive people can have a completely normal temperature and would therefore not be caught by the temperature screening area. For this reason it is important for workplaces and employees to still enforce and practice social distancing protocols, handwashing, and PPE usage within the office. These measures, when used appropriately, are highly effective at preventing the spread from person to person.

How Panel Built Can Help Promote a Safer Workplace

One of the primary benefits of Panel Built, Inc.’s building systems is that they can be delivered and installed into a facility incredibly quickly and seamlessly. For companies that are looking to implement these changes to their access control systems, Panel Built offers a great deal of flexibility in our structures to best fit your facility’s needs. For example, we offer a line of temperature screening booths that allow attendants to more safely screen employees. These booths can be designed to fit multiple temperature screeners with separate work stations if the entrance sees heavy traffic.

The ability to create custom designs goes for all of our products. If you’re not sure what the best layout or design would work for your facility, Panel Built works with a network of dealers throughout the US, and our dealers can personally come to your facility (socially distanced, of course) to help you design a layout and configuration that suits your company.

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This recent Panel Built installation provides individual office space with modular office walls for a business partner needing to expand their offices. Photo courtesy of Prime Retail Services

New Challenges Require New Solutions

Throughout the pandemic, Panel Built has developed a variety of new solutions to help companies and organizations in need of changing space solutions. In addition to our temperature screening areas, we have developed a swab testing booth for health care workers to safely administer nasal swab tests.

These booths have an overall design which is similar to our traditional guard buildings, using the same wall materials and with the same general size of a standard, one-person booth. These booths have an extra large, plexiglass window at the front, and glove ports are installed into the windows.

This design provides the health care worker inside with a barrier between themselves and the person they are testing, allowing for quick testing from patient to patient. Additionally, since these booths are highly portable, they can be easily picked up and moved from one place to the next. This flexibility allows cities, hospitals, schools, and more to rapidly create a COVID testing area or move their testing area to different locations to serve another community.

Also, depending on how often these buildings will need to be moved, Panel Built can mount the booth on a small trailer. Similar to our temperature screening booths, the swab testing booths are a great way for organizations to ensure safety on a larger scale.

Help For Inside the Office

At the start of the pandemic a number of us started to work remotely more and more often. To mitigate the risk of an overcrowded workplace as we recover from the pandemic, many workplaces have elected to have their workers return to the workplace in waves, adding more and more workers as the threat of COVID-19 continues to go down. Another popular solution has been to stagger the shifts of employees, allowing workers to select evening or weekend times to work. Both of these are practices that we have used for certain office employees and employees in our manufacturing process.

But what options do companies have to adapt to the existing space for a long-term solution? There are many that contest this pandemic will not be truly over until a proven vaccination has been created, and the last case is reported. With people becoming more and more accustomed to social distancing practices and the spread of infectious agents beyond COVID-19, these cautionary measures could be adopted by many people long term.

For companies looking to transform their open office space into a more COVID-friendly design, Panel Built’s modular wall systems offer a flexible, semi-permanent way to divide up your exiting office space. With our panelized wall system, Panel Built can create fully custom, personal offices. By completely closing off the workspace with a Panel Built wall panel system, employees can reduce the exposure to aerosolized COVID-19. These office systems have been implemented into commercial and educational facilities across the United States and are designed to be quickly installed and fit into the office’s existing aesthetic.

Unlike a thin, clear plexiglass shield, Panel Built’s modular office walls provide all the same advantages that come along with a personal office space. Rather than being stuck behind a plastic sheet that provides no advantages other than being a sneeze guard, employees can feel comfortable in their own space. These new spaces offer additional privacy that is lacking from an open office. This separation helps to reduce pressure and to provide a more relaxed work setting during what is a fairly tense time for all of us.

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gb&dPRO members are recognized experts in their fields and contribute opinion columns as one of their member benefits. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and may not reflect the view of gb&d. We are committed to a diversity of voices advocating for high-performing, sustainable built environment practices. We’d like to hear what you think about this article or any of our other coverage. Send us an email at [email protected].