The Role of ‘Healthy Buildings’ in 2021 

The Role of ‘Healthy Buildings’ in 2021 

06/04/2021

 

As employers plan for a phased return of their teams to the workplace, the concept of a ‘Healthy Building’ is no longer best practice, buildings of all ages and fit-outs levels must be healthy as standard. 

 

Earlier this week The Irish Times reported on a study undertaken by Professor Mike Weed from the University of Canterbury, which found that “outdoor gatherings are safe if accompanied by proper risk management”. This particular research studied 27,000 Covid-19 cases, based on 6,000 different pieces of data, and determined that the number of cases associated with outdoor transmission was “so small [as] to be insignificant”.

Similarly in Ireland, outdoor transmission accounts for 0.1 per cent of the State’s Covid-19 cases. In fact, the official figures show that of the 232,164 cases of infection recorded across the country up to March 24th this year, just 262 cases have been traced to outdoor activities since the pandemic began. So, with only one in every one thousand Covid-19 cases linked to outdoor activities, attention is turning to safety indoors, which means that all buildings post-pandemic will need to be ‘Healthy Buildings’.

Of the almost quarter of a million reported cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, only 21 outbreaks occurred on construction sites, with 124 cases. To put these figures into further context, 131 cases can be traced back to 20 outbreaks associated with sporting activities and fitness. According to The Irish Times article, the relatively low numbers of Covid-19 cases resulting from outdoor transmission in Ireland is in line with international findings. 

Prior to the pandemic, the EPA established that indoor air can be 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air, however, a recent review of five global studies of transmission by the University of California has found that the chances of getting Covid-19 in an indoor setting is 19 times greater than outdoors.

The Irish Government has been strongly criticised for “ignoring” the vital role that ventilation must play in stopping the spread of the coronavirus indoors (source: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/coronavirus-in-ireland-ventilation-to-stop-spread-of-covid-19-being-ignored-by-government-2028g293b). Political will and supply chain issues are identified as the two key factors stopping ventilation from being considered as a core way to halt the spread of Covid-19, according to a member of the government’s own expert group that initially reported to Nphet, but now reports to the Senior Officials Group within the Department of the Taoiseach. This expert group is tasked with informing sectoral guidance and public information regarding ventilation. Objectively, neither the sectors nor the public have been well briefed in terms of ventilation but this needs to change, quickly. 

As employers plan for a phased return of their teams to the workplace, the concept of a ‘Healthy Building’ is no longer best practice, buildings of all ages and fit-outs levels must be healthy as standard. Given the nature of the coronavirus, indoor air quality, or IAQ, will need to be prioritised. While ventilation will play an important role in establishing the health of a building, there are many other factors to be considered, including proper operation of HVAC systems, occupancy in relation to capacity, interior layout and functional design elements. All of these factors contribute to the spread of the virus, however, this contribution can be positive or negative. This is why actionable sectoral guidance and clear, fact-based public information is so vital right now. 

 

About McKeon Group

Established in 1950 and ISO certified for more than two decades, McKeon Group offers expert construction, fitout and building services. The family-run Group delivers projects, services and maintenance across a range of sectors for State, local authority, FDI and private clients. For more information, contact: www.mckeon.ie

 

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