Mark Kelly, Head of Maintenance for building services specialists Mitton Group, discusses some of the premises-related issues facing business owners and facilities managers as the commercial world prepares to open up again after lockdown.
So the road map is in place and – vaccinations and viruses permitting – we have a better idea of how our lives will be as we progress into 2021. This means that many companies whose business premises have stood empty for prolonged periods of time are now challenged with how to reopen these safely.
The coronavirus pandemic will be with us for some time yet, even after everyday life becomes a little more normal, so business ‘re-entry strategies’ should focus on the short term future. Restarting systems and ensuring installations are safe and compliant is a vital issue. However, we should also be considering how to improve on issues such as ventilation to continue to limit the spread of the virus going forward.
It’s all about fresh air
Employers have always been required to maintain adequate supplies of fresh air in the workplace, so looking carefully at the timing and control of fresh air into commercial spaces is a good place to start. It’s vital to achieve a balance between fresh air and climate control.
If additional fresh air is introduced into a building, then the heating systems must be able to cope in order to provide a comfortable environment for staff and customers.
Updating controls can help here. Many modern systems already incorporate CO2 detectors capable of assessing the impact on a space created by varying number of people and can therefore regulate ventilation automatically.
Strike the right balance between ventilation and comfort. Partially opened windows promote natural ventilation. Air rooms through regularly by opening doors and windows wide but resist the temptation to prop open fire doors! Consider any areas with no natural ventilation and research retrofit solutions.
Practical steps like upgrading or replacing filters are easy and affordable. Many filters are capable of removing at least 99.97% of particles from the air down to at least 0.3 microns in size. Add to that developments like antibacterial coatings and a fresh set of filters can have a positive impact on air quality.
Stand-alone solutions can play a role too. Good air purifiers are capable of extracting air in all directions, over significant areas, ensuring the ambient air is quickly and efficiently refreshed and purified. Match the capacity of the unit to the area where it will be used for optimum effect.
What about air conditioning?
Although some centralised air conditioning/ventilation/climate control systems do not recirculate air and use a fresh air supply, many do, so make sure you check yours! Although we can’t prevent contact transmission of the virus, we can reduce the potential concentration in the atmosphere.
Remember the water systems
A vitally important consideration for any building which has been standing empty or subject to reduced occupancy. Stagnant water can present a number of issues. To comply with legislation around the Legionella bacteria, systems should be flushed out and tested after a period of inactivity, and maybe rechlorinated in time for staff and customers to return.
Consider any air conditioning installations too in this respect. Legionella bacteria risks also exist if your air conditioning units have a source of water. If in doubt, seek the advice of a professional organisation approved by the Legionella Control Association (LCA) and qualified to advise on this aspect.
Seek advice from a competent specialist
Contact the professionals to make sure your systems are safe, serviced correctly and operating at maximum efficiency.
As we move towards a more normal life, our Mitton teams are on standby to help existing clients and new partners. Mitton will support them and their businesses to ensure business operations are as safe and efficient as they can be to manage these new challenges. Alongside the measures we’ve all come to expect like social distancing, wearing masks, keeping areas clean and providing supplies of hand sanitiser, everybody has a role to play in keeping people safe as we exit the pandemic.