Covid Winter Plan: Adequate ventilation is alongside vaccines as a vital component to Plan A
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s announcement on Tuesday 14 September sets a cautious tone about what the seasons ahead may bring in terms of the pandemic. Indeed, whilst this important announcement is solely about Covid-19, many in the scientific and medical professions are very concerned about the Influenza virus too, given the lack of immunity in the population. Additionally, the “flu-jab” is likely to have low efficacy, given the lack of influenza data in 2021 because of global lockdowns, meaning it is difficult to formulate a targeted anti-viral vaccine.
The document reinforces the fact that “evidence indicates that airborne transmission is a very significant way that the virus circulates.”1 This is similar with Influenza; it is predominantly an airborne pathogen too.
The behaviours and actions recommended by the Government in guidance aim to mitigate all methods of transmission and the document states, “under specific conditions high levels of ventilation could reduce airborne transmission risk by up to 70%.”1 Indeed, other G7 economies had already recognised the importance of ventilation to decontaminate (remove & dilute) air potentially containing invisible viral particulate that occupants breathe.
The USA, for example, is investing over $200 billion in protecting its schools, public buildings and investing in such infrastructures, both pharma and non-pharma, to protect the nation better. These infrastructures better protect not just against Covid-19 but other potential future pathogens which are mainly airborne in transmission, such as Covid-Variants, other coronaviruses, viruses like Influenza and RSV and also bacterial and fungal spores, which are becoming more common again. The White House’s plan is to protect their people, their infrastructures, and their economy with what is being referred to as, creating “Pandemic Resilience” and “Infection Resilience”.
Back in the UK today, for businesses the Government said, “To support businesses through the autumn and winter period, the Government will continue to provide up-to-date Working Safely guidance on how employers can reduce the risks in their workplace. Businesses should consider this guidance in preparing their health and safety risk assessments and put in place suitable mitigations.”1 You should, “Ensure there is an adequate supply of fresh air to indoor spaces. Businesses should identify any poorly ventilated spaces, for example by using a CO2 monitor, and take steps to improve fresh air flow in these areas.”1
It also clear that there are more policy guidance/updates to come for businesses, “Due to the importance of fresh air in limiting the spread of COVID-19, the Government will set out in guidance the practical steps everyone can take to maximise fresh air in order to reduce the risk of airborne transmission, taking into account the colder months when more activities take place indoors.”1
The HSE are very clear though, “The law says employers must make sure there’s an adequate supply of fresh air (ventilation) in enclosed areas of the workplace. This has not changed during the pandemic.”2
The term “Adequate Ventilation” is used several times in current guidance but also the Health & Safety at Work etc Act-1974 (HSWA) and its various regulatory instruments, such as The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and Approved Code of Practice-1992. That term, “adequate ventilation” is only undefined part of current and historic guidance because a risk managed approach is needed to suit the prevailing workplace arrangements, occupational use, occupancy, environment, management procedures and policies.
However, other regulators, institutions, and scientific authorities around the world have taken a different response approach to this new Covid-19 hazard. They take a risk managed approach too, with the need for adequate ventilation at the forefront too, however they state values which point to ventilation rates of no less than 10 litres/person/second and/or the equivalent of 6 Air Changes/hour of fresh outside or clean uncontaminated air, the greater there-of shall apply.
Interestingly, the UK combined Trade Unions have also published guidance quoting those same figures to help members returning to work. They are also recognising CO2 levels of 800ppm or less as a measure of “adequate ventilation”.3
Clearly, employers must also take notice of the importance of what the unions are advising their members too because, again, under the HSWA and its Regulations, there is a duty to consult on such matters as Workplace Ventilation, in particular, “The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 and the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996”.
If one cannot provide “Adequate Ventilation”, perhaps identified by CO2 meters showing regular excessive readings, one is required to adopt mitigations to compensate for inadequate ventilation using air purification devices, of which our UK health & safety regulator, as do many others around the world, only currently support two suitable types of proven technology, at the present time:
It is also clear from today’s announcement that the Public Sector are being directed to adopt better ventilation practices in the workplace and the marker is there, as noted above, that further reinforcement of the above lies in the months ahead.
The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) were commissioned by Sir Patrick Vallance to investigate and report on pandemic resilience and their report4 is a good indicator of what is likely to be considered in future policies or reinforcement of current arrangements.
“One does not need to wait for policy change though, this RAE report on “Infection Resilient Environments: Buildings that keep us healthy and safe” is best practice and companies can not only be ahead of compliance but are able, ahead of whatever this Winter may bring, to better protect their workforces, operations and create a competitive advantage by adopting such practices now” according to PP-L Biosafety’s Technical Director, Paul Waldeck, who was part of the Institution of Mechanical Engineer’s Covid-19 Task Force who contributed to the RAE report.
Paul added, “As Chartered Engineers, Scientists and Medical experts, we at PP-L Biosafety can help and advise both Private and Public Sector employers about compliant and safer ventilation arrangements; AND safe, proven and regulator supported mitigations to create Infection and Pandemic Resilient Environments. We then, are able to design improvements and supply the appropriate mitigation devices to suit the risk managed approach to current occupation arrangements, environment and risks.”
“Whilst we expect further updates in the months ahead from the UK Government and Regulators, as stated today, we are confident that the UK will catch up with other G7 nations in accelerating the deployment of appropriate Engineering & Technology interventions, similar to those that PP-L Biosafety provide.”