How do I ensure my building is still compliant & running effectively?
During the lockdown period HSE have not relaxed the requirements for statutory and mandatory inspections therefore routine maintenance have continued during this period. However we recognise there may have been some disruption where the supply chain is complex or the requirement for parts has been necessary. If the building has been mothballed/shutdown, the BESA publication ‘SFG30’ provides guidance on ensuring the building is maintained and compliant for reactivation (to be read in conjunction with ‘SFG20’ guidance). It is important that when organisations reopen their buildings and workplace that the environment they work in is first and foremost safe as well as fully operational and functional. Before reopening, the building's technical systems should be examined and inspected to identify any issues to be addressed prior to reoccupation, particularly for areas where routine maintenance had been suspended due to lockdown and to check for any issues that have occurred during vacancy of the building. This will include testing of life safety systems (e.g. fire, life safety, emergency electrical systems), reinstating heating and cooling systems, water flushing, emergency generators and verification of gas safety compliance and lifts certification (compliance against lifting operations and lifting equipment regulations 1998). Nb. To reduce the risk of load shed on a concurrent start of all building systems, building systems should be restarted in a methodical order. Below we have listed recommended building service operations for reoccupation:
Safety & Compliance
- A full inspection should be carried out by a certified third-party provider for all fire, life and safety systems to ensure they all pass safety requirements and are fully operational e.g. fire life safety systems (alarms, sprinklers, PAVA, etc); emergency lighting; generators , UPS, pressure vessels, etc
- Ensure fire risk assessments are up to date
- Portable fire appliances in place and in date and emergency exit closing and opening mechanisms are still operating correctly. If any changes to escape routes have been made ensure correct signage is in place
- Ensure any isolated gas and electrical supplies has been reinstated
- Check all safety devices on pressure systems and inspect for any system leaks
- Testing should be conducted for emergency lighting systems and safety switches (RCD) as required by local legislation
- Confirm lifts and elevators are working in line with LOLER regulations and their certifications are up to date, as required by local legislation. Refer to CIBSE Guidance.
Covid-19 Recommissioning of Lifts and Escalators
- Liaise with insurance provider to ensure all insurance requirements and conditions are met in regards to reinstatement of services
- Ensure worker safety as a result of covid-19 mitigation when completing risk assessments e.g. 2m distancing rules in confined spaces.
Further information can be found here.
- Even though occupancy levels are likely to decrease, run the ventilation at a higher volume flow rate (which may require changes to CO2 set points for both mechanical ventilation and automated windows
- Configure HVAC systems to run on full fresh air and pre-purge the air conditioning systems to improve indoor air quality for occupants. Ensure HVAC clocks have been amended to reflect changes to occupancy times. Avoid recirculation/transfer of air from one room to another unless this is the only way of providing adequately high ventilation to all occupied rooms. Recirculation of air within a single room where this is complemented by an outdoor air supply is acceptable. Where an existing system uses recirculation, HEPA filters should be considered for the recirculated air
- Ensure the appropriate filters are in place and consider assessing the benefits of upgrading the air filtration where required
- Mechanical office plant should be ran 24/7 albeit at a lower rate outside of occupancy hours in order to purge the building when not in occupation and maintain dilution of containments. Up-flow and displacement air systems may aid the removal of containments from the occupied space
- Refer to CIBSE Guide: Covid-19 Ventilation Guidance'
- If operable windows and openings are available these should be proactively utilised to boost natural ventilation to occupied spaces as much as possible
- Ensure BMS system has been updated to align with changes in occupation and operation e.g. extended opening times, changes in ventilation rates.
- There is some evidence that people are more susceptible to infection when the relative humidity is below 30% (which is more likely to occur during colder months). The building management system (BMS) should include the measurement of relative humidity at each demise
- Where humidity control is not part of the base building provision, air conditioning systems can be used as a means of adjusted the humidity of the air.
Heating & Cooling
- Some rotary heat exchangers may allow cross-contamination from exhaust to fresh air which results in them needing careful inspections and maintenance, however it may be necessary or recommend to temporarily suspend their use during virus outbreaks
- Fan coils, fan-assisted VAV terminals, active and passive chilled beams. All these recirculate air locally in the occupied space and should It is important that fan coil units (FCU), fan assisted VAV terminals and chilled beams are frequently and thoroughly cleaned as these will recirculate local air in the serviced areas. This will also include the frequent maintenance of FCUs*, drain pans and traps to prevent the growth of bacteria where condensation occurs
- Ensure the operational mode of heating and cooling systems have been reinstated and amended for reoccupation and for the appropriate season
- A full inspection should be carried out to ensure gas safety compliance with regulatory requirements on heating systems
- Where heating systems have been isolated, annual pre-heating season service checks should be undertaken prior to restarting the system.
- A full inspection should be carried out to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements of chilled and on-site water systems (including cooling towers) Resume any water treatments that have been paused and test water quality and ensure that all water sampling and water treatments are aligned to new PPM schedule
- Water system stagnation may occur if a building was closed or had reduced occupancy due to the covid-19 lockdown due to decreased use which increases the risk of Legionnaires’ disease. Due to this increased risk, the HSE has launched a new website to provide further information and guidance: https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/legionella-risks-during-coronavirus-outbreak.htm
- CIBSE TM13 also gives useful guidance on minimising the risk of legionnaires disease in water systems
- Ensure that waste pipes and water traps are clean and clear in sewage and waste systems.
Energy usage & cost control
Many of the methods listed above to prevent contamination and infection are likely to increase energy usage and carbon emissions. To help offset this, energy and equipment operations should be reviewed to identify any low/no cost energy saving initiatives that can be introduced as well as considering smart solutions which will also assist with energy cost control.
- An energy review could entail adjusting the equipment schedules to reflect occupancy numbers and operational hours
- Reviewing energy supply contracts against the market to see if more competitive rates are available
- Smart solutions could provide monitoring intel on office space to track occupancies in specific rooms areas and control the temperature and pressure remotely. There are also applications available for location specific reminders e.g. 'wash your hands', clean your desk, etc
- Smart sensors and controls could be introduced to automate and control temperature and pressure control zones (heating/cooling)
- Remote monitoring of building services which can reduce the number of site visits and call-outs by an engineers
This webinar and Q&A document reflects our professional opinion of the factors impacting workplace transition in the context of our role as workplace specialists. It does not constitute formal advice and we recommend engagement with specialists, including your own internal or external health and safety advisors, if you are transitioning your workplace to a 'Covid secure' standard. Please also note that the Q&A contains responses to specific questions which therefore may not be appropriate for all types of businesses or workspaces. The spread of COVID-19 and the containment policies being introduced are changing rapidly, and some of the views expressed herein may not reflect the latest opinion of Avison Young. We strongly recommend that you continue to monitor the relevant UK Government advice, and any supplementary local advice. These sources provide regularly updated information on the COVID-19 outbreak: World Health Organization, Government of Canada, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UK Government, Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Case Tracker.