Office ventilation systems could spread Covid-19, warns construction consultancy

27 August 2020 | General

Modern ventilation systems found in most offices could heighten the spread of coronavirus this winter, East of England property and construction consultancy Ingleton Wood has warned.

The company is encouraging office managers to review their ventilation setups and “consider all necessary action” to ensure staff safety amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most offices in town centres and business parks built since the 1980s have heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems that recirculate existing air – designed to improve energy efficiency – rather than systems that pipe in fresh air from outside.

Laura Mansel-Thomas, partner at Ingleton Wood (pictured), said: “Winter is coming and windows are closing – putting the lockdown spotlight for the first time on ventilation for office workers, managers and landlords. What do we have? Is it fit for purpose in a global health pandemic?

“These are important questions we should all be asking ahead of the mad dash back to the office after six months of remote working and home schooling.

“But the fact of the matter is that most offices in north Essex are not state-of-the-art skyscrapers with natural fresh air being pumped in all-year round. They are modern office blocks which have embraced energy-efficient cooling systems – usually ceiling-mounted air conditioning units – but it’s a common misconception that they are providing fresh air.

“As a result, workers could be potentially subjecting themselves to a build-up of infected droplets caused by poor ventilation, although we know this is a hot topic of scientific debate.”

While scientists continue to debate if stagnant indoor air caused by poor ventilation increases the risk of infection, The World Health Organization acknowledged in July that so-called airborne transmission “cannot be ruled out”.

Mansel-Thomas added: “Employers are responsible for the safety of their staff and natural ventilation methods seem to have worked well this summer.

“But we have seen very little public health advice for the winter other than keeping windows open. Clearly there is no guarantee that employers will do this. In addition, minimising the risk of infection could involve radical redesigns in some cases of how offices function.

“That’s why we’re calling for all employers in the East of England to review their ventilation systems and seriously consider all necessary action to ensure that their workplaces don’t recycle air that could potentially carry Covid-19 – whilst being open and honest with staff and visitors too.”

This post has originally been featured in Property Wire.