COVID-19: Managing Risk When Reopening Buildings

May 19, 2020 | COVID-19, Insights

“With advice and guidance emerging from insurers and the Health and Safety Executive on the risks associated with reopening buildings, and as the new roles of operating buildings in a healthy and secure environment materialise, managing agents, landlords, and contractors will have to adapt quickly.”

As businesses prepare to reopen their offices and buildings, managing agents and building landlords are now trying to unravel the complexities of operating buildings in this “new normal”.

The recent UK Government guidance indicated the transition to the next stage of COVID-19, where workers in industries such as manufacturing and construction can return to work, and with other offices and workplaces following as early as next month. This sense of moving into the next stage of the “new normal” is reflected in other regions around the world with varying phased approaches to allowing people to return to workplaces.

With advice and guidance emerging from insurers and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on the risks associated with reopening buildings, and as the new roles of operating buildings in a healthy and secure environment materialise, managing agents, landlords, and contractors will have to adapt quickly.

Anthesis’ Chief Engineer, Mark Hawker, and Principal Consultant, Andy Marsh, provide insight into the actions building owners and landlords can take to minimise risk when reopening buildings.

Preparing to Reopen

As businesses prepare to reopen, it is critical to consider how you will manage the health and safety risk and how existing procedures can be adapted to create a safe work environment both now and on an ongoing basis.

The most critical actions owners should take are:

Assessing Risk

With recent guidance released by professional membership bodies and industry associations around COVID-19 risk when reoccupying buildings, and reflected in insurance company guidelines, owners and managing agents will need to demonstrate that they have actively satisfied the requirements placed upon building systems and managed and minimised these risks.

Although the focus is currently on the COVID-19 pandemic, the list below also considers recommendations due to buildings having been left unoccupied:

Ventilation. Increase the volume of external air supply into the building as much as possible, and where practical consider also leaving windows open in office space to further increase ventilation. The Chartered Institute of Building Service Engineers (CIBSE) guidance recommends that ventilation should not be reduced in line with occupancy but maintained to mitigate the risk of airborne transmission. Other considerations to improve the safety of ventilation include:

  • Where the ventilation system uses recirculation, turn this off to prevent contamination from being recirculated back into the building.
  • If the ventilation system is fitted with CO2 sensors for occupancy, increase the setpoint to maintain 400ppm (parts per million) of CO2.
  • Where heat-recovery systems are in place, make sure that air released from the exhaust cannot contaminate the fresh air supply to the system.
  • Ensure that filters in air handling units are sufficiently clean to allow a good volume of air to circulate. Switch air handling units with recirculation to 100% outdoor air

Heating Systems. Where heating systems have been isolated, CIBSE recommend annual service checks should be undertaken by a competent professional before restarting the heating system.

Electrical Power. For buildings which have only been closed for the lockdown period (or up to one year), with the power or individual circuit isolated, power systems should not have deteriorated. However, a competent electrical contractor should be consulted before turning any power systems back on.

Water Systems. As water systems will have been left standing, to prevent the presence of Legionella and other harmful bacteria which thrive in stagnant water, a competent person must visit the site to flush through and sanitise water systems and to clean all taps and showerheads.

Building Management System (BMS). If a Building Management System is in place, the operation of the system should be checked. Additionally, the system should be altered to reflect changes in the use of the building, such as opening times.

Life Safety Systems. Check that all life safety systems are working correctly. Life safety systems include, but are not limited to, emergency lighting, fire alarms, fire suppression systems, lifts in tall buildings, ventilation (particularly for enclosed car parks), and generators supporting any other essential systems.

Deep Cleaning. As buildings have been unoccupied, it is possible that vermin may have entered buildings making surfaces unsanitary. Even if this is not the case, before employees return to the building, a deep clean of the space should be conducted, and plans made to ensure that a suitable frequency and level of cleaning is undertaken to prevent the spread of COVID-19

Restrooms. Restrooms pose a particular risk to the spread of viruses. To reduce risk:

  • Turn on mechanical ventilation 24/7.
  • Do not open windows in restrooms to avoid contaminated air being released into the rest of the building.
  • Use signage to encourage employees to put toilet lids down when flushing.
  • Provide adequate soap and hand drying facilities.

Testing and maintenance. Ensure that the regular statutory testing, maintenance, and inspections of all systems, such as gas safety and emergency systems, are up to date.

Social distancing. To allow for the required social distancing of 2 metres, consider how many people can now utilise the workplace at any one time. To ensure that distance can be maintained, consider the way people “flow through” the building, and develop a movement plan which limits crossing, for example, a one-way system for corridors and stairs, and a one-person limit for lifts. Desks, seating areas and meeting rooms should be limited, and furniture rearranged to reflect this. Additionally, “privacy screens” can limit the spread of germs, and signage such as social distancing markers can help to communicate these changes.

How can Anthesis help?

Anthesis is currently working with businesses to meet these urgent needs, using our team of trained Building Services Engineers. We are also supporting clients to manage the energy use of their buildings, using the lockdown period as an opportunity to introduce demand reduction or supply technologies.

We are currently organising a roundtable event for building operators to discuss the risks mentioned above. If you are interested in taking part, please contact us using the form below.

Mark Hawker
Chief Engineer, UK

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Anthesis has offices in the U.S., Canada, UK, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Finland, Colombia, Brazil, China, the Philippines and the Middle East.

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