Division Title

​Return to Physical Workspace

Returning to Physical Workspaces After Extended Absence

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in extended absence from may workspaces in facilities throughout the NIH. While there are few offices, laboratories, or other spaces that have had no activity, many of the spaces have had limited activity. This coupled with reduced or eliminated house-keeping support means that each space will need to be evaluated for problems that may have emerged during the long vacancy from the workspaces. 

Examples of emerging problems include:

  • Unnoticed flooding from building leaks or mechanical failures
  • Odor issues from: 
    • Trashcans or refrigerators that were not cleaned out prior to departing the workspace,
    • Food or beverages left in the office
    • Sink or floor drain traps that have dried out
  • Dust and debris from lack of housekeeping
  • Pest management issues, including pest monitoring stations that were inaccessible to Integrated Pest Management technicians
  • Stale or stagnant water in sinks, emergency showers, and ice makers

At least three weeks prior to employees’ anticipated return-to-work date, it is recommended that supervisors physically survey the work environment and follow the workspace evaluation tool (found in Appendix VII - Workspace Re-Occupancy Evaluation Tool) to ensure the work environment is safe and comfortable for all.

Water Fixtures and Plumbed Appliances. 

Although the Office of Research Facilities (ORF) has taken actions to ensure that plumbing fixtures are flushed and serviced to prevent stagnant water and the formation of Legionella or other issues, there may be appliances and devices in your immediate workplace which may require additional attention upon return.

Some suggestions include:

  • flush water in refrigerators equipped with water taps and/or ice makers.
  • flush water through coffee machines and dishwashers.
  • remove stagnant water/ice and replace filters in water-using appliances (BRITA pitchers, Keurig, coffee makers, ice machines, refrigerators with filtered water, etc.).
  • flush water in eyewashes for 15 minutes when returning to the laboratory and weekly hereafter.

Residual water standing in pipes can be flushed by opening taps at all water points of use and letting the water run, typically for 5-10 minutes. Care should be taken to minimize splashing and aerosol generation during flushing. Flushing your water weekly will prevent stagnation of water. Flushing and removing stagnant water regularly in water-using appliances not only prevents stagnation, it also helps prevent bacterial growth, mold, algae and discoloration. Your water-using appliance may need cleaning steps in addition to flushing (e.g., discarding ice). Consult the device manufacturer's maintenance instructions; these may be available online, in the service/repair manual or directly from the manufacturer. Filters (if applicable) in water- using appliances need to be replaced after a shutdown and/or non-use of more than 7 days. Always follow the manufacturer's maintenance instructions in replacing the filters.

The following resources provide more information on restoring water quality after reduced operations:

For illness concerns suspected to be caused from the consumption of potable water at NIH, please contact Division of Occupational Health and Safety (DOHS) Drinking Water Program Manager at 301-537-5970 or 301-496-2346.