HSE guides to returning to work safely

18th March 2021

.The HSE has produced a number of guides regarding returning to work safely.

Some of us have started to return to the office, and in the coming weeks many more people will leave home for the first time in what seems like forever! To ensure a smooth and safe transition, it’s essential that buildings are clean and HVAC systems are operating as they should.

Ventilation in particular is key in the fight against coronavirus. In buildings that have lain dormant for some time, legionella proliferation can be a risk in water systems.

What the HSE says about Legionella:

Employers, building owners and landlords all have a responsibility to the people using their buildings. The risk of Legionnaire’s disease has increased due to water stagnating in tanks and pipework in buildings that remained closed or at reduced occupancy during the pandemic.

Run a Legionella risk assessment before letting people back in to offices and other places of work. Carry this out before:

  • Reinstating and / or using water systems
  • restarting air conditioning units

HSE’s guidance covers:

  • Hot and cold water systems – infrequently used outlets should be flushed weekly to prevent stagnation
  • Cooling towers and evaporative condensers – continue essential checks, monitoring and dosing
  • Air conditioning units – larger units may present a risk if they have improperly drained condensate trays, or humidifier/evaporative cooling sections where water can stagnate
  • Commercial spa pools and hot tubs – drain and disinfect them if not in use

The guide explains the used of biocides and other chemicals. For hot and cold water systems, we have found that flushing alone is not enough. TVCs have increased during lockdown where flushing was the only source of control. Flushing using chemicals will provide ongoing bacterial control leading to less legionella risk and smoother reopening.

You can find out more about our approach to dealing with Legionella in underused buildings in our guide ‘Locked down but not forgotten’.

What the HSE says about ventilation:

Employers are legally obliged to ensure there is an adequate supply of fresh air (ventilation) in enclosed areas of a workplace. While this has always been the case, as we have come to understand how Covid 19 is spread through the air, adequate ventilation is even more important.

The HSE recommends maximising the fresh air in a space by:

  • Natural ventilation – through windows, doors and air vents
  • Mechanical ventilation – using fans and ducts to bring fresh air in from outside
  • A combination of the two

Before staff return back to work, employers, FMs and building managers should assess the risk from aerosol transmission in enclosed areas, identify poorly ventilated areas and decide on steps to improve the situation.

Recommendations for reducing the aerosol spread of Covid 19, include:

  • Making sure infected workers (or any visitors with coronavirus symptoms) do not come into the workplace
  • Providing adequate ventilation with fresh air
  • Limiting the number of people in an area
  • Reducing the time workers spend in occupied areas.

Guardian provides a range of air hygiene services, including air quality assessments, duct cleaning and IAQ monitoring, for more information, click here.

To read the HSE’s guides to Coronavirus (Covid 19): Working Safely, click here.