The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way we think about things like airflow and ventilation. Whilst ventilation has always been valued in medical settings, ventilation in workplaces and schools have become a higher priority.
As part of a post-COVID world, businesses need to incorporate improved ventilation systems as part of their COVIDSafe plans.
Every workplace is different and has a level of risk to transmit airborne diseases like COVID-19. This article can help you assess the ventilation risk of your workplace and what you can do to improve your risk.
Why does ventilation matter?
Workplace ventilation and clean air flow has been highlighted during the pandemic because COVID-19 is an airborne disease. Infectious people can exhale tiny droplets and aerosols containing the virus and these very aerosols can be inhaled by people breathing in the surrounding air.
Ventilation is also important to protect the community from transmission of other airborne hazards like dust, fibres, pollen, bacteria, mould and spores that can also make us sick, especially vulnerable people like children, the elderly and immunocompromised people. Proper ventilation can relieve symptoms for chronic conditions like asthma and hay fever.
Air flows differently indoors compared to outdoors and many variables can factor into the risk of transmission amongst workplaces.
What is risk of transmission?
Prior to installing HEPA filters, purifiers and HVAC systems, building managers need to identify a buildings risk of airborne transmission. Poorly ventilated spaces have a higher risk of transmission of aerosols and airborne diseases.
There are many things that can be factored into an area’s risk:
The size of the room
The size of the room is a critical part of the risk assessment. Ask yourself:
- How big is the room?
- Does the room have high or low ceilings?
Smaller, enclosed spaces pose a higher risk for airborne transmission as there is less room for the air to recirculate. Ceiling height can also affect the risk profile and rooms with lower ceilings are deemed higher risk due to their reduced circulation.
What is the rooms current ventilation?
When assessing the rooms ventilation risk, ask yourself:
- Can you open any doors and windows to allow fresh air into the room?
- Are the doors and windows often open or closed?
- Does the room have a hallway/corridor access for ventilation?
- Do you have any harmful technologies in place?
If rooms do not have access to natural ventilation, there is a higher risk for airborne transmission. Fresh air can dilute the indoor air and naturally removes particles and pollutants from the indoor air into the atmosphere.
Having an ioniser in the room may also be more harmful and negate its purpose, as ionised particles will stick to the inside of your lungs. This has been linked to decreased lung growth.
Who uses the room?
Even the people who access the room can vary its ventilation risk profile.
- How many people are using the room at once?
- How long are people staying in the room?
- Who exactly uses the room?
Crowded indoor settings have been known to become super spreader events for COVID-19. People who work in close proximity of each other – eg: face-to-face conversations – have a much higher risk of transmitting airborne infections than those who are able to socially distance.
Another thing to consider is the types of people in your indoor space. Are they part of the ‘healthy’ working population or do they have vulnerable immunity or are known to be infectious? If your audience is the latter two, the risk of indoor ventilation has increased again.
How to reduce your risk?
It can be quite confronting to discover your workplace is poorly ventilated and poses a high risk of airborne transmission. But don’t be too alarmed, there are several options to reduce the risk and improve the ventilation to your area:
Add natural ventilation
If possible, opening a door or window to allow fresh air to flow in can do wonders and lower the risk. The natural airflow will replace the stale air with fresh air. Although, this may not always be possible in places like basements, or medical centres or due to poor weather.
Installation of mechanical ventilation – don’t be fooled
The common perception is that installation of HVAC systems, which are thermal comfort (heating and cooling) systems, creates increased airflow and will eliminate risk. This will not do anything for your CO2 levels, will exacerbate any aerosol transmission and unless it is capable of filtering out particles will leave PM levels unchanged.
HVAC is very effective for spreading air.
Ensure that if you install HVAC it has sufficient fresh air intake, and has enough capacity to handle MERV or HEPA 13 filters in the system.
Repurpose the room
It is not always easy to renovate and install mechanical ventilation, but to get to a root cause, can you or your team work in a more open space? Does the room have to house large team meetings or can it be used for less people?
Installation of air purifiers – number 1 step
The pandemic has seen an influx of HEPA filters and portable air units come to the market. They are a quick and easy alternative to drastic renovations (which can be expensive and time consuming) to promote airflow, but more importantly to clean the air of harmful material.
Regardless of the size of your workplace, we should all focus on quality air filtration in the best interest of everyone’s health.
Westlab are the exclusive distributor for Swiss-designed and engineered Aeris Aair Range,To purchase an Aeris Aair filter or a wide range of medical products, contact Westlab today.