Covid-19 resurgence: Using technology to improve building and office safety

Covid-19 resurgence: Using technology to improve building and office safety

With concerns about the rapid spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, many businesses are understandably keen to find ways to minimise infection spread to reassure workers as well as customers, visitors and, where applicable, tenants.

As part of the government’s Plan B, face masks are once again required for most indoor public venues, in shops and on public transport. And people are being asked to work from home where they can.

Where people do gather in indoor spaces, enhancing indoor ventilation is still being advised.

But interest is also growing in technological solutions that can actively reduce the transmission of bio contaminants – such as viruses – by optimising the air we breathe.

Certainly, monitoring, filtering, and controlling indoor air quality (IAQ) can provide people with greater confidence – as well as comfort – in their workspace environment.

Air quality linked to infection probability

Surprisingly, the UK currently has no regulations to govern indoor air quality. That's why in May 2021, a group of experts in disease transmission called on the government for that to change, as it became apparent that viruses such as Covid-19 are often airborne transmissions, carried in the air circulating in indoor spaces.

The good news for anyone involved in managing workplaces, and other indoor spaces where people gather, is that we don’t need to wait for regulations to minimise these risks.

Healthy building standards

Adhering to ‘healthy building’ standards is the best way to reassure people that their environment is safer and complies with industry guidance.

To reduce the risks of airborne transmission of infectious agents, the general advice is to increase the air supply and exhaust ventilation, supplying as much outside air as is reasonably possible.

A 2019 study published in Scientific Reports found that providing even minimum levels of outdoor air ventilation reduced influenza transmission (commonly known as the flu), as much as having 50-60% of the people in a building fully vaccinated.

Latest REHVA guidance

In addition to general guidance provided for employers and building owners by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations (REHVA) has published further recommendations on how to operate and use building services to minimise the spread of Covid-19.

These include:

  • Operating mechanical ventilation systems one hour before and after building usage time, as long as you operate a minimum three air changes per hour during occupancy
  • Changing the CO2 setpoint to 550 parts per million (ppm) in demand-controlled ventilation systems, in order to maintain the operation at nominal speed
  • In the heat recovery sections of the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, using plate heat exchangers and enthalpy plate exchangers with permeable membranes

Using existing technologies to monitor for viruses

When it comes to actively reducing transmission of viruses, the technology already exists within the HVAC controls of many building energy management systems (BEMS).

For example, did you know that it's possible to monitor the air for common pollutants including bio contaminants, and then activate improved air cleaning processes and fresh-air ventilation to minimise any threat?

Determining your air quality score

The best way to determine the quality of a building's internal environment is to have an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) survey.

When our team at E.ON1 Control Solutions (ECS) carry this out, they use the latest sensor technology to collect detailed information about IAQ, then grade it based on leading medical research and industry best practice. This process then determines a building's IAQ score.

Our colleagues have also implemented a "wellness pod" multi-sensor solution that can operate as a stand-alone application, or as part of an integrated BEMS (where it can also support HVAC-related energy savings).

Each "wellness pod" can measure six key environmental parameters and provides high-precision real-time readings for:

  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Particulate matter
  • Barometric pressure

All have an impact on your building's air quality.

For example, studies have shown that controlling relative humidity (RH) reduces transmission of certain airborne infectious organisms, including some strains of influenza and potentially Covid-19.

The scientific literature finds maintaining RH between 40% and 60% creates the most unfavourable conditions for the survival of micro-organisms.

Link to increased productivity

An added bonus to improving air quality is the long-established link to enhanced productivity.

For example, a study by Oxford Brookes University found that maintaining lower levels of carbon dioxide boosted employee work output by 60% and improved test scores by up to 12%.

Supporting a smarter, more productive workforce – as well as providing a safer indoor environment – is now in any landlord, building or facilities manager's power.

So if you need help determining if your current systems are fit for purpose – or how best to implement improvements to ensure your premises complies with healthy buildings best practice – do get in touch with our colleagues at E.ON Control Solutions.

 

1 npower Business Solutions, powered by E.ON

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