Before you go back to your smelly old workplaces at the encouragement of politicians, ask your bosses one thing.
What did they do during the pandemic? And I don't mean making interminable Zoom calls or sending little welfare parcels, as welcome as they are.
No. Ask your bosses what they did about air quality. Right now it is the single biggest widespread risk to the health and safety of workers.
As Australia prepares to return to place-based work in an attempt to revive our ailing CBDs, there is strong money on most employers not having done a damn thing except turn the air conditioning on and off, as if the ventilation just needs a laptop-style reboot.
It needs to be treated with far more urgency. Lidia Morawska, a distinguished professor at QUT's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, is utterly puzzled by the public health response to airborne transmission of COVID-19.
"So far I haven't heard any discussion at all about the issue of ventilation apart from schools. But offices, other facilities, nothing."
Morawska is an international expert in the field, a long-standing collaborator and advisor to the World Health Organisation, and has contributed to all WHO air quality-related guidelines since 1990. She says no one in Australia has done a good job of explaining the risks of airborne transmission.
"It goes to old medical dogmas that viruses are not airborne. The medical community no longer believes this, but public health authorities are behind," she says.
She is deeply concerned about the lack of attention paid to the issue by the business community.
"People are returning to a situation where the virus is in the air, and that promotes infections. Departments of health, both federal and state, should make a statement that airborne transmission is a significant risk and adequate ventilation is risk mitigation," she says.
Nothing so far. So if various governments aren't taking the big steps, what should employees do?
We need to talk about ventilation
Jason Monty, a professor of engineering at the University of Melbourne (and a deadset ventilation guru) says employees should ask what changes have been made since everyone was last in the office.
It's as simple as asking: "Has there been an assessment of the ventilation?"
Employers do not understand they are on dangerous ground now. They are required to take responsibility for the safety of the workplace, and that includes the safety of the air quality. Monty fears employers haven't taken that on board.
He says now WorkSafe has charged the Victorian Department of Health with 58 breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in relation to Victoria's initial hotel quarantine program, it is clear employers need to take charge and take care.
"It is a genuine safety issue now - not just in terms of the community but in terms of the workplace," he says.
"You have certain risks in the workplace and you are supposed to have safety procedures checked off each day. Employers have a duty to protect workers and aerosol spread is a threat.
"As an employee you are entitled to ask, 'What is in place to keep me safe from transmission?'"
Monty was instrumental in providing advice to the Victorian government on air quality and safety - and consistently provided the recommendation that schools should have air purifiers. Now the Victorian government has forked out for 51,000 of them, as essential workplace equipment for public and low-fee independent schools.
That's not happening anywhere else yet.
With three kids of his own - 15, 11 and four - Monty knows it's tough to get children to comply with the other very useful way of ensuring we stay safe: masks.
"I think it is too early to stop wearing masks indoors. We have evidence - proof - that masks are our best defence after vaccinations for the community against COVID-19 transmission," he says.
He points to what happened in the UK when students stopped wearing masks at schools.
"A massive number of infections - we could talk all day and experts would argue about how much risk it is in children. But infections will increase if kids don't wear masks," he says.
Protection against poor air quality at work and at school is not just something that's nice to have, like Monte Carlos and full-cream milk in the tea room. It's a legal obligation. Liam O'Brien, the assistant secretary of the ACTU, says workplace health and safety laws place an obligation on employers to have the conversation with employees.
"They must explain how they are identifying the risks," he tells me.
O'Brien introduces me to the concept of a PCBU - a person conducting a business or undertaking. Those PCBUs are responsible for the suitability of the ventilation, for example. And it is not just workplaces. It's schools. Churches. Gyms. Shopping centres. A lot.
Before any worker is asked to return to work, employers owe it to staff and to anyone else who comes on to the premises to prove it is safe.
"I would be encouraging any worker who is concerned about going back to their workplace to reach out to their trusted voices to understand what their rights are," says O'Brien.
Sotiris Vardoulakis, inaugural professor of global environmental health at the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health and, for years, director of research and head of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Occupational Health, says mechanical ventilation with fresh clean air flow is essential, and there must be maintenance of filtration - "the right kind of filters which are replaced regularly." There are different kinds of filters for different kinds of systems.
He also suggests carbon dioxide monitors. If the concentration of carbon dioxide builds up, it indicates the ventilation is just not good enough.
So what does Vardoulakis say you should do next? Talk to your boss or your health and safety rep. Ask about heating, ventilation and air conditioning. How much fresh air is getting in? How often is maintenance performed?
"In the same way we expect clean water, we deserve fresh air," he says.
Wouldn't it be awesome if we didn't all have to end up the way the folks in hotel quarantine did?
- Jenna Price is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and a regular columnist.