Indoor Air Quality and preventing the spread of COVID19 We identify key measures to prevent the spread of COVID19 in buildings and maintaining good indoor air quality.

Indoor Air Quality and preventing COVID-19 spreading via the airborne route in buildings

Apr 6, 2020

Why do clients choose Smart GreenTech Solutions for the latest news on Indoor Air Quality testing, audits, compliance and improvement in buildings?

We love what we do and specialise in improving the Indoor Air Quality of commercial buildings and have a solid track record of delivering Indoor Air Quality testing, audits and the development of IAQ improvement plans.

A person can survive three weeks without food, three to five days without water, and only a few minutes without air. Even though each of us breathes almost 11,500 litres of air every day, it is often treated as less important than other resources. Yet ambient air pollution can trigger many illnesses and significantly shorten the life span of individuals, even in the absence of a fatal disease – BreezoMeter: One, two, three, breathe.

Clean air is a basic requirement of life. The quality of air inside homes, offices, schools, day care centres, public buildings, health care facilities or other private and public buildings where people spend a large part of their life is an essential determinant of a healthy life and people’s well-being – World Health Organisation (WHO): Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality.

Indoor air quality is to a large extent dependent on outdoor air pollution, and in addition, the indoor environment contains many additional sources of air pollutants from building materials, consumer products, occupants, and their activities. Occupants are therefore exposed to a mixture of a wide range of pollutants – CIBSE TM40 Health and wellbeing in building services.

We are in week 4 of an extended COVID-19 lockdown, and its overwhelming and downright scary to see the death rates spiralling upward, the significant impact the lockdown is having on businesses, individuals, our freedom and everything else that constituted our ‘normal’ that we have taken for granted.

I recently received the following quote - If we go back to the way things were, we will have lost the lesson, so may we rise and do better!

The more I reflect on this the more it resonates with me!

Amongst all this doom and gloom, there is some hope shining through, as we gain a new level of appreciation and respect for our NHS staff and all other frontline/key workers, and a realisation of whom the real hero’s in society are.

It is also clear that the planet is healing itself, as pollution levels are at its lowest in decades and wildlife are returning in abundance. People are looking out for one another more now than ever before and as the lockdown continues, there is a greater focus on mental health, indoor health & wellbeing and a lot of us are realising that we can work from home and still stay connected, engaged and productive.

By the time the lockdown is eased and eventually lifted, our personal safety will take preference, and I think that people would be wary if not scared of groups and having others in their personal space. We will be very conscious of the various ways, real or perceived, that COVID-19 and other diseases spread, and as we have all been through a very traumatic experience, we will have to sensitively deal with the effects of COVID-19 on many levels.

In addition, people are going to question the need for offices and going into the office more than ever before, which is a debate worth having and would require people centred leadership to actively engage employees and develop a win-win model to accommodate employee needs and business goals through agile working.

The lockdown is predicted to be the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930’s, which further aggravates matters.

Looking ahead, and taking all the above into consideration, I personally cannot see that we will ever get back to business as usual once the dust settles and we get to the other side of this pandemic!

My views are better explained using Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs/motivation, which states that our basic needs i.e. physiological and safety needs need to be fully satisfied before we can move onto the next stage of fulfilment, our psychological needs.

Once a person's physiological needs are relatively satisfied, their safety needs take precedence and dominate behaviour.

Safety and security needs are about keeping us safe from harm. This includes personal security, emotional security, financial security, health and well-being and safety needs against accidents/illness and their adverse impacts.

If a person does not feel safe in an environment, they will seek to find safety before they attempt to meet any higher level of survival.

I believe that COVID-19 has rocked most if not all our safety and security needs, so let us learn the lessons, rise to the challenge and collectively do better!

Building occupants are going to demand much more from their indoor working environments, including cleaning, disinfecting, sanitation, and indoor air/environmental quality.

Operating and maintaining buildings to avoid health risks and fostering wellbeing has never been more important, and I predict that it will become the new normal.

As the economic downturn bites, companies are going to look for ways to cut costs, and from experience the facilities and maintenance budgets are some of the first areas to be targeted.

This is going to create very challenging times, as building occupants are going to be demanding healthier and safer indoor working environments, whilst the FM and maintenance budgets could potentially be reduced.

Every challenge provides an opportunity, and I strongly believe that we can do more with less, but this will require visionary leadership and a critical rethink and reset of business as usual, and adopting optimised and outcome-based maintenance strategies focussed on the indoor environment.

Time based planned maintenance (PM) has not provided much if any value to the indoor environment of buildings, as it is focussed on the building systems i.e. conduct checks at pre-determined intervals.

Outcome based planned preventative maintenance (PPM) is primarily focussed on maintaining the required indoor environment parameters and dictates the maintenance requirements of building systems i.e. conduct checks, record, and adjust at pre-determined intervals.

You would observe that at face value the actions look very similar, but the key difference is that PM is activity based whereas PPM is outcome based.

To put it differently, PM is knowing what to do and at what frequencies whilst PPM is knowing why you are doing it so that you can fix/adjust it before it fails and/or goes out of parameter!

A few weeks ago I created a post with some key measures to help control the airborne route of COVID-19 in buildings, and ensure good Indoor Air Quality, which I have included below.

In addition to deep cleaning and sanitising office environments and schools etc. to contain the spread of Coronavirus which includes air disinfecting, hard surface cleaning and sanitizing common points of hand contact surfaces, don't forget the central ventilation and air conditioning systems. It is highly recommended to set all Air Handling Units (AHU) with a recirculation capability to full fresh air i.e. no mixing of the return air with the outside/fresh air being supplied. On AHU's that have a recirculation capability, disinfect all cooling and heating coils. If disinfecting the coils and filters of the internal air conditioning terminal units and/or Fan Coil Units (FCU) are not part of the routine maintenance regime, then it is also highly recommended that these be disinfected too.

Since then, numerous very useful guidance documents have been published by BESA, REHVA, CIBSE, ASHRAE and WELL etc. A group of Nordic scientists have gathered together under auspices of SCANVAC to call for recognition of airborne transmission of COVID-19 and the implementation of adequate measures to prevent it, as this route has been documented for the outbreak of SARS, influenza, measles, etc. Its likelihood has been underpinned by the newest research of aerosol scientists and by modelling, but not fully acknowledged for the spread of COVID-19. Ignoring this route of transmission would be irresponsible because several practical solutions for reducing the spread may be overlooked, among others, the role of ventilation.

Before we look at a summary of the most practical low/no cost measures that could be implemented immediately, lets first look at what good Indoor Air Quality is.

Good Indoor Air Quality may be defined as air with no known contaminants at harmful concentrations. Common contaminants or pollutants include gaseous pollutants, such as carbon dioxide (produced by occupants and from combustion appliances), volatile organic compounds (released by carpet glues and other materials), odours and particulates.

Good Indoor Air Quality is essential to ensure the health and comfort of occupants.

Ventilation is an essential component for the provision of good IAQ and thermal comfort.

Key measures to help control the airborne route of COVID-19 in buildings, and ensure good Indoor Air Quality

Natural ventilation:

In buildings with or without mechanical ventilation, open windows to boost ventilation and to dilute and remove pollutants. Please note that this option is only viable if the threshold limits for key outside air pollutants are below the recommended pollutant concentrations.

Where windows provide adequate ventilation, and the cooling/heating systems uses local air circulation through chilled beams, Fan Coil Units or any other terminal type unit, switch these off, even if it results in a bit of temperature discomfort for the occupants.

Increase air supply and extract ventilation rates:

Set controls of AHU’s to supply as much fresh air as possible.

Set controls of AHU’s to operate 24/7 with lower ventilation rates when building is un-occupied.

Extract ventilation systems in toilets should be set to operate 24/7, and a relatively negative pressure (more extract than supply) must be maintained to help avoid faecal-oral transmission.

Heat recovery and air recirculation:

On AHU’s with rotary heat exchangers/enthalpy wheels, switch these off during COVID-19 as particle deposits on the return air side could be transferred to the supply air side. AHU’s with twin coil i.e. run around coils or other heat recovery devices that guarantee air separation between return and supply is not affected.

Set all Air Handling Units (AHU) with a recirculation capability to full fresh air i.e. no mixing of the return air with the outside/fresh air being supplied.

On AHU's with rotary heat exchangers/enthalpy wheels or a recirculation capability, disinfect the heat exchangers/enthalpy wheels and all cooling and heating coils.

Where buildings don’t have windows and the cooling/heating systems uses local air circulation through chilled beams, Fan Coil Units or any other terminal type unit, disinfect all cooling/heating coils and filters.

Bringing it all together

The above measures will ensure that you have done everything reasonably possible in the short term to prevent and mitigate the airborne spread of COVID-19 in buildings.

Once the above low/no cost measures have been implemented, then it would be advisable to develop/review the Indoor Air and Environmental Quality strategy for your buildings, which will guide cleaning, maintenance and energy efficiency strategies/activities including air filter selection / replacement (time vs condition based) and coil/duct cleaning schedules etc.

Maintenance strategies should have a common objective to achieve and sustain the required indoor environment for the life of the building, in an energy efficient and environmentally friendly manner which supports the organisation and societal climate change objectives.

Will we be getting back to business as usual?

Looking ahead, I personally cannot see that we will ever get back to business as usual once the dust settles and we get to the other side of this pandemic!

Building owners and occupants are going to demand much more from their indoor working environments, including cleaning, disinfecting, sanitation and indoor air/environmental quality.

Operating and maintaining buildings to avoid health risks and fostering wellbeing has never been more important, and I predict that it will become the new normal.

As a result of this, I predict that time based maintenance built on SFG20 schedules etc. will soon be outdated, and there is no better time than the present to be pro-active, by reviewing and optimising your maintenance strategies and associated activities, to ensure that you add significant value to your workplace whilst providing maximum value for your maintenance budget.

During these challenging times, it’s even more critical to develop cost effective and outcome-based maintenance optimisation solutions which are bespoke to you and your buildings, focussed on maximising your resources, whilst providing a safe, comfortable and healthy indoor environment.

The management and improvement of indoor air & environmental quality in the workplace will only be successful if it’s viewed as a long term commitment, and will require a collective effort which gets everyone onboard that’s responsible for managing the workforce, workplace and supporting disciplines including the operation, cleaning, maintenance and ongoing management of buildings, and needs to be integrated into the wider workplace strategy.

Good luck, stay safe and remember that if we go back to the way things were, we will have missed the opportunity and lost the lesson, so may we rise and do better!

How can we help you?

If you need some assistance with this, then we would welcome the opportunity to discuss this and how we can support you and your teams to optimise your maintenance strategies/activities to ensure that the indoor environments of the buildings which you operate, maintain or occupy avoid health risks and fosters wellbeing.

Please feel free to contact us on 03300 881451 to discuss your specific Indoor Air Quality requirements.

Alternatively, feel free to leave your details on our contact form and we will get straight back to you.



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