Jonny Knowles, Director at Mitton Group, discusses the importance of adequate and effective ventilation to improve air quality and reduce the potential for the spread of coronavirus.
Even before the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, the law stated that employers have a duty to ensure that there is an adequate supply of fresh air in enclosed spaces within workplaces. With the latest HSE guidance discouraging the use of 100% recirculation system settings, employers should be actively considering the efficacy and correct operation of their ventilation systems.
We are constantly being advised of the vital importance of fresh air in combating the transmission of the virus. With summer just around the corner, this presents less of a problem, but achieving the right balance between the introduction of fresh air into a space and the comfort of employees using that space, ventilation systems are a hot topic this year.
Passive airflow through open doors and windows should be combined with ventilation using mechanical means such as air handling units and air conditioning units to introduce the required fresh air. Ventilation is just one of the control measures which can reduce the risks of viral transmission in the workplace.
So what can you do to improve this?
It’s obviously that social distancing and hygiene measures such as hand washing have a vital role to play; ventilation has little or no effect on droplet or contact transmission. However, risk assessments should be carried out to identify areas at risk of poor natural and/or mechanical ventilation. Then businesses need to assess what needs to be put in place to improve these standards.
HSE is recommending that indoor air quality surveys, swab sampling and fresh air assessments are carried out before businesses reopen their premises. Alongside this issue, the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) is demanding that tackling potentially dangerous levels of air pollution inside buildings should be an integral part of the new air quality laws called for by South London coroner Philip Barlow, who is seeking legally enforceable lower air pollution limits in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
His recent report also called for much wider use of air quality monitoring – an issue BESA has been raising for some time in terms of building interiors as well as the outside world. UK limits on some harmful particulates are currently twice the level recommended by the WHO. There is a suggestion that PART F of the Building Regulations, which is currently under review, could form the basis for improved Indoor Air Quality measures.
Lack of adequate ventilation, both natural and mechanical, is the key issue in terms of the build-up of contaminated air. Which brings us round full circle. It’s time to take a close look at exactly how (and how well) your building is ventilated, and consider improving the standards before they become enshrined in law, to the ultimate benefit of you, your workforce and everyone who uses your building.