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Government Guidance And Legislation On Clean Air – Reducing The Spread Of COVID

As we learn to live and work with coronavirus over the longer term, and that is the intent, there are actions we can all take to help reduce the risk of catching COVID-19 and passing it on to others. These actions will also help to reduce the spread of other respiratory infections, such as flu, which can spread easily and may cause serious illness in some people. 

Government guidance on clean air

Therefore, there is a significant benefit beyond our current challenges and this guidance is hugely beneficial to pay close attention to.

In line with this, there has been a set of guidelines published by the government that gives recommendations to best reduce the spread of viruses within the workplace. There does seem to be some confusion across the globe on this though, as different countries have put different guidelines and legislation in place and it makes us wonder who is right and who is possibly over or under-reacting?

So what is the guidance in the UK right now?

“Bringing in fresh air to occupied spaces can help to reduce the concentration of respiratory particles, lowering the risk of airborne transmission of respiratory viruses.

The risk of catching or passing on COVID-19 and other respiratory infections can be higher in certain places and when doing certain activities. When someone with an infection breathes, speaks, coughs, or sneezes, they release respiratory particles which can contain the virus. These particles can come into contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth or can be breathed in by another person. These virus-containing particles can also land on surfaces and the virus can be passed from person to person via touch.

In general, the risk of catching or passing on a respiratory infection is highest when in close contact with someone who is infected. It is also possible to pass on a respiratory infection between people who do not have close contact, especially if they are in a crowded and/or poorly ventilated space where smaller virus particles can stay suspended in the air for some time and where there are more people who might be infectious.

The risk of airborne transmission is increased when occupants in a space are participating in energetic activity, such as exercising, shouting, singing, or talking loudly. Employers should continue to comply with the requirements for cleaning, ventilation and welfare facilities in the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 or the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015 to control occupational health and safety risks.”

This all sounds clear but when compared with the guidelines put forward in the EU

“Building administrators should maintain heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems according to the manufacturer’s current instructions, particularly in relation to the cleaning and changing of filters [17].

There is no benefit or need for additional maintenance cycles in connection with COVID-19. Energy-saving settings, such as demand-controlled ventilation controlled by a timer or CO2 detectors, should be avoided. Consideration should be given to extending the operating times of HVACs before and after the regular period Direct air flow should be diverted away from groups of individuals to avoid pathogen dispersion from infected subjects and transmission.”

There are clear discrepancies between the two. So, for most business owners, the right solution will be the one that protects employees but has the least impact on business operations.

To achieve this, several additional steps can be taken that enable the undertaking of the guidance as well as far exceeding it in terms of successful outcomes.

Solutions for clean air
BESA (Building Engineering Services Association) puts forward the following guidance in its recommendations for living with Covid:
“Indoor air quality – Understand and properly monitor indoor air quality (IAQ) in particular the potential effects on the workforce in enclosed environments.”

The important difference within this guidance is the addition of the concept of monitoring indoor air quality. Much of government guidance focuses around carrying out actions but not recording the before or more importantly after. This means that you have no idea about the success of the actions. 

The addition of the monitoring component enables the ability to see the effectiveness of enhanced ventilation and potentially identify any problems with the existing HVAC system (if present).

Envelo Solutions believe that this is a far better philosophy to adopt. Integrating measurement into any company’s health and safety process enables an important understanding of progress and going forward the ability to demonstrate adherence to the guidelines. 

It is important to recognise that although currently there is no legal requirement to demonstrate high-quality air within your workspace, it would be a likely next step if the UK government is determined to keep on with their “living with Covid policy.”

What if there is no mechanical ventilation system in your workplace?

For many workplaces, this is a reality due to the age of the type of building that is being used. There are however some key steps that can be taken to ensure that your team is in the safest working environment possible. 

The best practice in this scenario is to understand what natural ventilation is possible within the workspace and then ensure this is best used to keep the air quality as high as possible. It is recommended that you bring in a specialist to aid with this as they will understand how the air moves around an enclosed space. 

However whilst this is a big improvement still more can be done, and at minimal cost, working with new technology to constantly monitor and improve air quality. In this scenario, it is worthwhile looking at how monitoring can be utilised again to ensure that the natural ventilation is keeping the space safe in all weathers and times.

So what is the best advice to take away from the current guidance? 

There are a couple of key areas in which all of the various governmental guidance do align, and that is in the area of enhanced ventilation. Firstly make sure there is plenty of fresh, clean air brought into the workplace continuously. To ensure that the volume is sufficient it is traditionally the time to bring in a specialist who will be able to advise you as to any upgrades to your HVAC/ventilation plan that will be required. 

Once this is in place it is then worth investigating any spaces within the workplace that are still not ventilated and see if there is either a way to use the space differently or bring in additional ventilation. These are the good takeaways from the advice outlined currently.

What for the future though?

The biggest advancements are in the field of remote monitoring and understanding how good the air quality is within your workspace. There is a plethora of technology that enables exactly this, but these vary in quality and sometimes only work as stand-alone systems potentially creating additional problems.

At present, the above is purely guidance but, likely, this could well become a requirement. In that scenario there would also need to be evidence that this was being followed. The more advanced air quality monitoring systems can combine all of this into a single platform, massively simplifying the task of management.

Is there anything else that you can do to help protect your team?

The guidance is regularly updated as the situation evolves so it’s well worth regularly checking the government website to see what the latest recommendations are. This is particularly likely to change as we come into Autumn/Winter when flu/colds/covid are likely to be more prevalent and therefore particular adherence to recommendations is advised.

Practical steps that can be taken include the installation of modern monitoring devices and a platform to help you and your team effectively manage the risk. Such devices and platforms should also give you the understanding of how your teams behaviour may be impacting the overall workspace air quality levels.

By integrating this type of system as early as possible, your team will be best protected no matter how the latest waves of COVID evolve. This would also put you ahead of the likelihood of the need to record how you are managing the air quality risk within the workplace as a matter of health and safety in the future.

There are some major positives to undertaking this kind of philosophy to clean, safe air in the office. Many studies have shown that good air quality promotes better wellness in your team with a direct link between better wellness and fewer sick days.

Studies have also seen a 30-40% productivity increase amongst staff who have better air in their workplace. This will be translated to your bottom line.

Once you factor these benefits of what clean, safe air brings to the work place, including improving the health and well-being of your team, suddenly the government guidance looks less of a burden and a good way to generate a significant return on investment.

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