Alan Tungate, Logical Safety Solutions and Sophie Davenport, SFE Services join Rob Walley, Controlled Events as expert guests this month. All are Directors and Co-Owners of their businesses and are each implementing COVID-secure arrangements themselves as well as advising clients.

Logical Safety Solutions provide competent, practical health and safety solutions, primarily for the events, TV & Film industries. SFE Services provide air conditioning, refrigeration & ventilation equipment installation, breakdown repair and routine maintenance services. Controlled Events provide resiliencereadinesscontrol and communications solutions including business continuity, crisis management, Log platform, Alerts and COVID response services. Together these companies have been assisting organisations to COVID-secure their sites, provide insights and expert advice to inform each tailored risk assessment.

With the acceleration of the national vaccine programme and growing confidence in multiple sectors to start planning for a new normal there are high profile COVID-secure failings that leave a minefield of advice, tools and resources for the average senior manager looking to establish a safe workplace.

Alan: “The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR) makes it a legal requirement that every business must have a policy for managing health and safety. It is an absolute requirement, and many businesses will think they are legally compliant, however a key element of the policy requires that it is updated for significant changes, with those changes brought to the attention of the workforce. COVID represents a significant change of circumstance and therefore needs to be reflected in company policy and training.”

As with any risk assessment, competence is key and specialist advice should always be sought. ‘COVID-secure’ status can be claimed if companies are up to date with scientific-based, published guidance and have implemented proportionate measures to protect the health of staff, contractors and the public. As can be seen from published bulletins, the Local Authorities and Health & Safety Executive (HSE) are extremely proactive in undertaking spot checks on businesses utilising the full range of interventions available to them in Law. These range from warnings and prohibition notices to prosecutions.

Key advice for COVID security from Alan includes:

  • Safe access to toilets and washing facilities, hand sanitiser stations at key locations.
  • Clear signage that identifies one way systems, walking routes and room capacities.
  • Staggering of work timings to limit mass arrivals and departures.
  • Safety inductions, health briefings and effective supervision.
  • Redesign of the working area, workspaces and desks realigned to encourage distancing
  • An enhanced cleaning regime alongside good ventilation/air circulation.
  • Further HSE advice is available here: HSE – COVID-secure

Rob: Our experience from supporting clients during the first COVID re-openings, in the Summer of 2020, showed us that there will be a gold rush for equipment, suppliers and advice as businesses start to gain confidence in market conditions and seek to achieve greater face to face interaction, both with their teams and customers. Whilst many organisations may continue a hybrid home working arrangement to a lesser or greater extent for the medium to long term, some of the hygiene and working arrangements from COVID are bound to persist for the foreseeable, especially given the medical premise that COVID-19 variants will continue to impact society.

Key advice for safe reopening from Rob includes:

  • Plan your reopening early – with customers, managers and staff will help
  • Obtain expert advice – we would say that….whoever you use, ensure that you have taken a proportionate and scalable approach and implemented measures which are clearly documented, trained and implemented by staff.
  • Communicate your plan widely – staff, customers, stakeholders, suppliers all need to have confidence in your future operating arrangements.
  • Plan for concurrent risks: cyber attacks, market changes and financial pressures, major fires, floods, severe weather – whatever the assessed risks are for your site(s) and sector. Time invested in scenario planning and exercising is worth it’s weight in gold when you are responding under pressure.

The new variants, especially B.1.1.7, is predicted by a number of scientific studies to be potentially 50% to 70% more transmittable (Neil Ferguson, Imperial College). This variant appears to generate many more droplets that are expelled when people exhale, coupled with the ability to make the spoke protein of the virus more efficient, it is not surprising that the impact is being demonstrated in the levels of new infections and the current pressures on hospital beds.

In the early stages of the pandemic, one thing that we were blessed with was good weather. However, Air conditioning and Recirculated air conditioning recieved a lot of “bad” press and confusing guidance during this period – should they be ON or OFF?

Sophie: The guidance from HSE now advises that recirculated air conditioning can be used providing there is ventilation, whether that’s natural ventilation by opening windows & doors or via mechanical ventilation. In poorly ventilated areas it is advisable to think about using additional air purification or extra filtration products or systems.

HVAC equipment that has not been cleaned, may well result in air which contains viruses and bacteria being circulated in the office environment. The most important thing anyone with an air conditioning system needs to do is to have it maintained, this will include filter cleans, coil cleans, sanitising and adjusting controls. This will help to improve air quality, flow, and increase energy efficiency.

Key advice for effective use of air conditioning from Sophie includes:

  • Ensure maintenance is in place for your mechanical ventilation i.e. a fresh air system or heat recovery system.
  • If you are currently reliant on natural ventilation, you may want to consider installing mechanical ventilation. There a range of options to suit most requirements and budgets and will provide greater energy efficiency and control.
  • For companies with existing mechanical ventilation, we advise having an assessment carried out to see if the required fresh air supply standards are being met or are achievable with the current system installed.
  • For most commercial premises we generally advise a minimum of two service visits per year
  • Adjust settings to reduce the recirculation of air and maximise fresh air supply (ideally 12-15 litres per second / per person).
  • Extend the running time by having the system on 2 hours before the area is occupied and 2 hours after