What the pandemic taught us about ventilation

The coronavirus pandemic had serious effects across many aspects of how we live and our day to day lives over the past few years. As it became clear that the virus spread via aerosols and droplets in the air as well as close physical contact, the design and operation of buildings and improving ventilation became top priorities in public health and policy. However, it was quickly discovered that UK infrastructure severely lacked infection resilience, so it wasn’t well equipped or designed to reduce transmission of covid-19. 

How did businesses respond to the pandemic? 

While managers of most buildings quickly took steps to provide hand sanitiser, make the use of face coverings mandatory, and introduce social distancing measures, it wasn’t always a quick and easy job to provide clean air for people to breathe. 

With windows painted shut, air-filtration systems not serviced to function at full capacity, risks from outside air pollution, and the requirement to maintain a comfortable temperature, there weren’t enough suitable systems in place to adapt to evolving ventilation needs. 

This was a risk not only to anyone using the spaces at the height of the pandemic but continues to be a health risk as the country recovers from the virus. Many businesses turned to an expert engineering consultant to rectify the situation and improve ventilation to create a safer environment for people to work and keep those practices in place moving forward. 

Low quality ventilation leads to poor indoor air quality and means people are more vulnerable to harmful contaminants. This can worsen conditions like asthma or allow easier transmission of common colds and seasonal influenza. 

In response to inadequate infrastructure across the UK, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the National Engineering Policy Centre were asked to look more closely at this problem. Their report noted 8 key actions that were needed to improve the health and sustainability of indoor environments through regulations and standards to apply throughout the life of new and existing buildings. 

Also, it advised implementing a clear baseline for what best practice in infection resilience looks like and utilising a commissioning procedure that ensure all buildings work as they were designed to. A process design consultant was an important part of this for many factories, to make sure everything is operating safely and efficiently. 

Has the pandemic taught us anything about ventilation? 

We typically expect to have things like clean drinking water and suitable heating/cooling in our workplace, but we might not consciously think about the need for clean air. The quality of indoor air isn’t monitored or reported like food hygiene or energy performance, and a lot of buildings don’t have formal management set up to check this. 

Covid-19 has been a big wake-up call for the UK about just how important good ventilation is and now is the ideal opportunity to take steps to better indoor quality across the board. Raising awareness of good practice is essential, so buildings that manage clean air successfully stand out. This should encourage others to take action, allow people to assess their own risk, and help us all play a part in maintaining healthy environments. 

This isn’t the first time a disease outbreak has forced our environment to evolve and adapt. Cholera epidemics in the early 19th century pushed forward the development of effective sewage systems. Tuberculosis resulted in changes in building design to enable more sunlight and air. Large scale outbreaks of legionella and E. coli meant regulatory reform on water treatment and food standards. 

A substantial amount has been done during the pandemic regarding air flows and ventilation to manage the spread of the covid-19 virus. It’s vital that businesses take every opportunity to merge that learning with what we already know about lowering emissions and fire safety to create buildings that are safe, healthy, and sustainable. 

At FESS Group our team of experienced factory design consultants can help ensure your processes incorporate high quality air ventilation where it is needed. Not only because of the pandemic, but because it is good practice to do this for the health and safety of workers and sustainability. Contact us today if you have any questions or request a free site survey to start your journey to more efficient and effective operations. 


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