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Back to the workplace: Are you prepared?September 2021

Throughout July and August 2021, the regulations and guidance for work have been modified across the UK. Particularly in England, people are no longer being instructed by the government to work from home where possible.

Guidance on working from home

England

Scotland

 

Wales

 

Northern Ireland

 

The government is no longer encouraging people to work from home. Businesses no longer need to implement social distancing measures.

Businesses are encouraged to continue to support staff to work from home where possible and appropriate.

People should still work from home wherever possible.

People should work from home wherever possible. Employees at work should continue to observe social distancing rules.

 

From across the UK, as people return to work, BSRIA is receiving queries from members and clients on three key topics:

  1. How can we give assurance to our building occupants that the indoor air quality is of a standard that will mitigate COVID-19 transmission? 
  2. What are my water systems going to be like after more than a year of underuse? 
  3. How can we address the concerns of our building occupants?

Ventilation

Currently, there are no regulations specifically addressing ventilation during the pandemic, but reliable guidance is available. Across the board, the guidance to increase fresh air remains in place. In this context, fresh air is taken to mean: outdoor air as it is unlikely to have any coronavirus contamination. Where contamination risks are present, further mitigation may need to be considered.

 A level of pragmatism, supported by a structured risk assessment and analysis process, should inform the approach to ventilation. Providing adequate ventilation does not mean people have to work in an uncomfortably warm or cold workplace; a safe level of ventilation needs to be balanced with thermal comfort and the occupants’ wellbeing.

For almost a year, there have been some useable metrics that can be applied in any building (or other enclosed space), to indicate the efficacy and suitability of the ventilation strategy. On the 23rd October 2020, SAGE-EMG published guidance on the “Role of Ventilation in Controlling SARS-CoV-2 Transmission”. This paper gives guidance on the CO2 levels that are considered as indicators of adequate ventilation to mitigate transmission. Both CIBSE in the UK and REHVA in Europe have given indications of CO2 levels in their guidance documents: 

These are summarised in the table below.

Organisation

SAGE-EMG

CIBSE

REHVA

CO2 level considered to be an indicator of ventilation that is ok/usually sufficient 

Below 800ppm

Below 800-1000ppm 

Below 800ppm

CO2 level considered to be an indicator of areas that need to be prioritised for remediation

1500ppm or above

1500ppm or above

1000ppm or above

 

BSRIA is supporting members and clients with a CoViD-19 Ventilation Verification Service. The base-level service establishes conformance with existing guidance and the enhanced service also includes measurement of airflow rates, VOC levels, pathogen levels in ventilation equipment and occupied spaces. BSRIA’s tracer gas decay rate checks can establish occupancy levels based on the ventilation provision to specific spaces and an agreed level of desired ventilation provision for the space.

Water safety including water safety plans

With so much going on in the last year, it is not surprising that it is only now that we are starting to get requests for support in implementing the water safety plans from BS8680:2020. The water safety in a building is focused primarily on Legionella and its prevention. Fortunately, many of the myriads of other pathogens that can be found and are able to proliferate in water can be controlled by the same maxim:

“Keep the hot hot, keep the cold cold and keep it moving.”

Due to the changes in use that many buildings have undergone over the past year, water use may have diminished for a prolonged period. BSRIA’s article “Planning for water safety in buildings and workplaces” comprehensively explains the holistic considerations that building owners and managers need to make to maintain wholesome water supplies in their buildings.

Prudence dictates that the cautious approach to the “return to the workplace” would include some testing and sampling of the water in the system. Sentinel points (start, middle and end of the system) give a good range for sampling, where testing every point is cost-prohibitive. When BSRIA undertakes this service, not only are biological elements inspected but water composition is also investigated. Atypical levels of dissolved solids can be indicative of the system’s health. This is achieved by analysing the types of material in the samples. Excessive metal oxides can indicate corrosion in the system, inhibitor levels can be analysed to ensure they are correct for the system type and of course biological content can be discerned.

After a period of inactivity, it is not just domestic systems that need to be checked. Closed water systems, such as heating, may have undergone excessive corrosion or settling of sediment. Non-destructive testing methods such as ultrasonic thickness testing can give spot check indications of system integrity against installation standards, or over a period of time, the maintenance or deterioration of the system’s pipework.

Valves may need to be eased and released due to inactivity. Care should be taken when performing this as this action may instigate issues with the valves. If multiple valves show similar issues, a destructive investigation of the valve may be considered to determine the cause. 

For further information on water system services such as:

  • Ultrasonics
  • Water composition analysis 
  • Endoscopy
  • System history review
  • Visual examination of system samples
  • Flow rate measurements
  • Thermal Imaging
  • Water safety plan 

BSRIA occupant wellbeing return to work survey (BOW survey)

People are complicated. We all have individual needs, expectations and desires. If building owners and managers are looking for a way to meet all or most of them, they will need to know what those needs, expectations and desires are.

When the workforce consists of a handful of people, this is easily achieved. When we start to look at tens and hundreds of people or even thousands, there is more need for structure.

Supporting building owners in following government advice and involving the workforce, or other building occupants, in the return-to-work process, BSRIA experts have developed a remotely deliverable survey known as the BOW (BSRIA Occupant Wellbeing) survey. This survey gathers information from the employees or other building occupants about what their focus of concern is. This allows occupants of the building to have their voice heard and gives facilities teams guidance for the areas of focus.

Building on the expertise and database gathered from the BOW survey, used by many to support POE, BSRIA’s BOW return to work survey provides an opportunity for the occupants to express their concerns about coming back to the workplace. The survey also provides analysis and presentation of gathered data in a graphical format. Optional detailed reporting on the results obtained can enhance the benefits gained from rolling out this survey.

Our consultants are keeping abreast with “back to the workplace” considerations and would be happy to support you and your organisation. For more information, you can contact us directly on +44 (0) 1344 465578 or writing to: consultancy@bsria.co.uk.