Reducing COVID-19 Transmission in the Workplace through better IAQ Management
As many return to the office in some capacity this year, employers will be on ‘high alert’ and managing hygiene and social distancing practices. One thing that must not be overlooked however is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).
As COVID-19 mainly transmits mainly via airborne particles, infection control methods for clean air are essential. Our air – usually so innocuous! – is now one of the biggest risks to workplace safety.
As many return to the office in some capacity this year, employers will be on ‘high alert’ and managing hygiene and social distancing practices. One thing that must not be overlooked however is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). As COVID-19 mainly transmits mainly via airborne particles, infection control methods for clean air are essential. Our air – usually so innocuous! – is now one of the biggest risks to workplace safety.
In this blog, we examine clean air practices for your office spaces – from HVAC systems and ventilation to the best air purification systems, that will look after your valued employees and patrons.
Why Managing Building IAQ for COVID-19 Virus Transmission is Important
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) isn’t a new concept. We’ve known for several years now that poor IAQ carries a large human and financial cost, contributing to absenteeism and a loss of productivity1.
With COVID-19, however, the stakes are even higher.
Pathogens like COVID-19 exist in aerosols emitted by ill people when they breathe, talk, cough, or sneeze, which remain suspended in the air in poorly ventilated indoor spaces. Under these conditions, they can linger and remain airborne for hours in some cases2.
Today, employers must re-examine their air quality methods. Not only do they need to ensure they are effectively managing the usual pollutants (dust, pollen, bacteria, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), pet dander, dust mites, and mould) but working towards the elimination of COVID-19 virus pathogens in the air. In fact, under Australian Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws, employers now have a duty of care to minimize the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace and implement control measures, with Work Safe recommending this include a risk assessment of air ventilation3.
How to Manage Building IAQ to Reduce the Spread of COVID-19
There are many methods to improve indoor air quality through natural and mechanical ventilation.
Some buildings do not have mechanical ventilation systems, so in these cases, improving ventilation may require opening doors, windows, vents, moving screens, furniture, etc. However, this can often not be practicable for safety or weather considerations. When there is a limitation to natural ventilation, workplaces can consider air purification systems (see below) to help clean the air and combat COVID-19 transmission.
Adjusting mechanical ventilation systems such as HVAC systems can also improve ventilation. You may need to consult with a mechanical or ventilation engineer, your building owner and/or facilities manager to adjust your systems to help minimise the risks of COVID-19.
It’s important to know however, that some mechanical ventilation systems can be outdated and inadequate for tackling indoor air pollutants and infectious particulate matter, which is again where air purification systems should be considered.
The Role of Air Purification Systems
There is a wide range of air purification systems on the market today. You can buy them for the home or office and they come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and power levels. As mentioned, an air purifier for the workplace may be required as a control measure, if your current natural and mechanical ventilation systems are inadequate or to maximise the safety of your employees.
What’s important to note is not all air purifiers work the same. Different air purifiers employ different technologies when cleansing the air you breathe and some are more effective at combatting COVID-19 than others.
Most air purification systems rely on a HEPA filter, trapping airborne viruses and bacteria as they pass through them without actually killing them4. Once trapped, the virus or bacteria may stay alive on the filter surface for several hours or even days, and there is a risk they are re-released back into the atmosphere when filters are changed or even when the unit is running. The HEPA air purification systems generally filter up to 99.97% of airborne viruses.
When the World Health Organization advised COVID-19 was mainly transmitted through the air, the focus moved from not just ensuring surface sanitation – but to prioritizing air sanitation. While there are a range of methods to improve IAQ in our workplaces through natural and mechanical ventilation, air purification systems are a vital tool in actively killing airborne COVID-19 and creating safer workplaces.
So, when you prepare your office for employees to return, remember that the air we breathe is now one of the biggest risks to workplace safety – which employers need to control, as they would any other safety risk for their valued people.