The latest research by the Royal Academy of Engineering confirms that good ventilation is essential to reducing transmission of Covid-19 and other health risks, writes Priva UK and Ireland sales manager Gavin Holvey.
After many years in which its importance was routinely under-valued, awareness of workplace wellbeing has been growing in both the public and private sectors for quite a while now. From lighting to heating, general understanding of the relationship between building systems and employee health has deepened considerably. But prior to Covid-19, it would be fair to say that one critical factor – indoor air-quality – had not received its proper share of scrutiny.
Given the nature of the virus – not to mention the need to make workplaces as safe as possible for the gradual return to the office – it’s not surprising that recent months have heralded a flurry of new research about air quality. One of the most high-profile reports was commissioned by the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, and undertaken by the Royal Academy of Engineering (1). It confirms that good ventilation inside public buildings and on transport systems is “essential to reducing the risk of Covid-19 and other infections”, with the current pandemic revealing “flaws in the way in which we design, manage and operate buildings.”
The report does not shy away from outlining the many steps that need to be taken to improve ventilation and boost infection control in buildings. There is an “urgent need to plug skills and knowledge gaps” across the board, while exploring a range of industries in the course of research has “uncovered differing levels of organisational maturity across operators and sectors”. The report insists upon the delivery of more consistent communication on ventilation from government and professional bodies, as well as access to “clearly identifiable measures that can be implemented at moderate cost [to ensure] that adequate ventilation is prioritised.”
Holistic approach to health
With its emphasis on a multi-faceted approach to improving workplace air-quality, the RAE report echoes what we at Priva have been saying for many years. A holistic approach to workplace wellness is the only way to guarantee the health of employees, and an optimised ventilation system is every bit as fundamental as next-generation LED lighting and effective heating control.
These and other points are explored in much more detail in our latest white paper, published in June and free to download now (2). ‘Healthy buildings: why now is the time to invest in building technologies’ highlights the need for organisations to meet or surpass existing guidelines for air quality. It also draws on a guide created by a team at Harvard University entitled ‘The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building’, which puts air quality and ventilation on an equal footing with factors such as noise, safety & security, and water quality.
The white paper also contains some specific recommendations. For instance, CO2 levels need to be maintained within a range of 400 to 1000ppm, since higher concentrations can lead to health problems such as drowsiness, poor concentration, headaches and nausea. Ventilation systems must also be capable of at least 75% removal efficiency for all particle-size fractions when filtering outdoor and recirculated air.
A centralised Building Management System can allow businesses to identify inefficiencies and potential problems affecting all facets of a building – including air quality and ventilation. Companies who have invested in a BMS can also keep track of their carbon output and energy consumption, in line with the RAE’s recommendation that efforts to increase resilience to infection be conducted in parallel with the move towards Net Zero.
Moreover, as with lowering carbon emissions, the report makes it starkly apparent that there is no time to waste. Failure to take action could “disrupt management of this and future pandemics, impose high financial and health costs and society, and constrain our ability to address other challenges such as climate change.”