HSE Advises on COVID-19 and Ventilation in Offices

What are the Legal Concerns When it Comes to Ventilation at Work?

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993 require companies to make sure that there is an adequate supply of fresh air in enclosed workplaces. This can be achieved through a mixture of natural ventilation (open windows), mechanical ventilation (HVAC systems). The Approved Code of Practice to the Regulations states that the air which is introduced should as far as possible, be free of any impurity which is likely to be offensive or cause ill health.

Using CO2 Monitors

This advice is based on recommendations in a paper by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) on using CO2 monitors in managing ventilation and reducing COVID-19 transmission. While CO2 monitors cannot measure levels of COVID-19, they can identify a build-up of CO2 in an area, which can indicate that ventilation needs improving.

The HSE recommends that the most appropriate portable devices to use in the workplace are non-dispersive infrared (NDIR) CO2 monitors. These should be placed at head height and away from air supply openings. They should also be over 50cm away from people, as their exhaled breath contains CO2. If your monitor is too close it may give a misleadingly high reading.

Employers should take several measurements throughout the day, when the room is occupied, to represent changes in activities, the number of people using it and ventilation rates. The amount of CO2 in the air is measured in parts per million (ppm). A consistent CO2 value below 800ppm is likely to indicate that an indoor space is well ventilated. CO2 levels consistently higher than 1500ppm in an occupied room indicate poor ventilation and you should take action.

However it should be noted that there can be considerable “drift” to calibration of such devices, even within a few weeks, so care should be taken when relying on the information to shape any decisions.

What About Work Vehicles?

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993 does not apply to vehicles. However, companies should still make sure workers switch on ventilation systems while they're using work vehicles. They should be set to draw in the fresh air and not to recirculate it.

If it's safe to do so, opening doors of vehicles between different passengers will help to change the air quickly. Opening vehicle windows fully for a few minutes can also help clear the air before anyone else gets in.

Keeping Offices Warm

The "too hot, too cold" debate continues to plague workplaces, and the need for extra ventilation does not mean people have to work in an uncomfortably chilly or cold workplace.

There are simple steps you can take to make sure your workplace is adequately ventilated without being too cold:

  1. Partially opening windows and doors can still provide adequate ventilation
  2. Open higher-level windows to create fewer draughts
  3. If the area is cold, relax dress codes so people can wear extra layers and warmer clothing
  4. You could set the heating to maintain a comfortable temperature even when windows and doors are open
  5. Consider providing additional sources of heating if required. Only use fan convector heaters if the area is well ventilated

 Assurity Consulting are leading experts in workplace health, safety and environmental compliance. For more information on our services, and how we can help you, please contact us on tel. +44 (0)1403 269375 or email us.