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Returning to the workplace: ventilation guidance

Many businesses have started, or are planning, to reopen and bring their employees back into the workplace. One of the key control measures in relation to a safe return to the workplace is ventilation.

Evidence indicates that COVID-19 is transmitted in a number of different ways and that one of the main routes is by suspended particles within the air, called aerosols.1 These particles come from those infected, either symptomatically or asymptomatically with the COVID-19 virus and are released into the air by speech, sneezing and general respiration. This can lead to the build-up of virus particles in the air within densely populated, or poorly ventilated, workplaces.

The fresher the air that flows through a premises, the less likely any exhaled COVID-19 virus molecules are to accumulated and inhaled by your teams. Here’s what you should consider when it comes to keeping workplaces safely and comfortably ventilated.

Preparing the workplace for a return to work

Have the right social distancing measures in place

While ventilation is crucial to reduce the likelihood of a COVID-19 outbreak, it’s not a substitute for social distancing.

Do not interfere with other safety measures

Increasing ventilation should not interfere with other safety measures. Window restrictors should remain engaged. Fire doors should not be propped open. If you keep fire doors open, secure them with a retaining device (fire door retainer) which can close the door in the event of a fire alarm.

Natural vs mechanical ventilation

Will you use natural ventilation such as opening non-fire doors and unrestricted windows? Or will you install mechanical ventilation where natural ventilation isn’t possible. If the latter, do you know how to properly maintain mechanical ventilation?

Different ventilation controls for different areas

Do you have any areas of your premises that aren’t well ventilated? For example corridors and kitchenettes. You may need to implement different controls to these areas that can’t be properly ventilated.

Identifying the risk areas in your workplace

Inadequate ventilation

Depending on your premises, there may be some areas where ventilation is inadequate or could be improved. If you have access to them, look at the building plans to find specific ventilation levels. Or consider carrying out an inspection detailing areas for improvements. If it’s not possible to find out how an area is ventilated it may be because there is no provision in that area.

Occupancy and size

Take into account how many people can safely use a particular area. If there are areas you cannot ventilate you may need to stagger access to it. While a larger workspace poses less risk if there aren’t lots of people in there, there may be spaces you might have to limit access to regardless of their size. This includes busy communal areas such as break rooms.

Furniture and airflow

Bulky items and equipment can disrupt airflow. Have enough airflow through your workspace to avoid pockets of still air to form.

Activities and tasks

If you work in spaces that require people to talk a lot, such as call centres. Or have exercise areas in which people will be breathing deeply. Consider putting additional controls in place by limiting such physical activities or reducing occupancy/facilitating homeworking.

Re-circulating air conditioning systems

If your air conditioning system recycles the room air instead of drawing in fresh air from outside, make sure that windows are open and natural ventilation is increased when the system is in use.

Vehicle ventilation

Vehicles are prone to the build-up of a virus due to their compact space with limited airspace. If your employees are required to drive on business and there is no alternative of vehicle sharing, it’s vital that, in addition to social distancing, they ventilate the vehicle during use. This can include:

  • Opening the windows
  • Turning the vents on
  • Turning off automatic air conditioning which recirculates air so fresh air is drawn from outside
  • Sanitise the vehicle between use/passengers.

The information contained herein is based on sources we believe reliable and should be understood to be general insurance and risk management information only. The information is not intended to be taken as advice and cannot be relied upon as such. Statements concerning legal, tax or accounting matters should be understood to be general observations based solely on our experience as insurance brokers and risk consultants and should not be relied upon as legal, tax or accounting advice, which we are not authorised to provide.

 

Sources:

1. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/coronavirus-disease-covid-19-how-is-it-transmitted

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