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Building managers urged to pay close attention to ventilation hygiene after lockdown

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As buildings start to re-open, the importance of complying with industry standards, keeping comprehensive records and using competent companies to carry out ventilation hygiene work will take on even greater significance due to the problems created by the coronavirus, a group of industry experts told a webinar hosted by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).

As part of efforts to cut costs in the wake of the disruption, some businesses may look to reduce the frequency of cleaning, but this should only be done in a planned way, the Association said.

Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of duct and legionella risk specialists Swiftclean, said the hospitality sector had been hit particularly hard, but cutting back on ventilation hygiene could increase the risk of fires being spread by poorly maintained kitchen grease extract systems.

“We need to keep grease build up below 200 microns to minimise risk,” said Nicholls. “Owners should look at how frequently they were having systems cleaned before the lockdown and compare that with their expected turnover.”

He said it was vital that any changes were supported by accurate records to satisfy fire risk assessors and insurance companies, adding “In many fire investigations, there is a complete lack of adequate post-clean documentation to prove if the system had been cleaned properly.”

BESA publishes the ventilation hygiene industry guide to good practice TR19 – and recently added a specification aimed specifically at kitchen extract cleaning. ‘TR19 Grease’ includes a schedule explaining the link between the frequencies of cleaning required and the average daily build-up of deposits in the extract system to help manage fire risks.

The chair of BESA’s Ventilation Hygiene group told the webinar that building managers should also take similar care of their supply air ventilation systems as occupancy levels start to rise again.

George Friend said there was no direct link established between the spread of the coronavirus and the cleanliness of ventilation, but that should not mean systems are not cleaned. Current guidance from the industry and healthcare experts is to provide maximum levels of outside air and avoid recirculation to protect against the virus.

“There have been ventilation hygiene standards in place for many years; so we are not asking people to do anything new,” he said. “However, it is more important than ever if systems are operating on full fresh air that ductwork is properly clean.

“Building managers should also consider whether their current ventilation strategy is still fit for purpose. Many are changing layouts and having new partitions installed to maintain social distancing, which will have an impact on airflows around the occupied spaces.”

He also said it was important to carry out a comprehensive survey of the ventilation as some places, such as toilet extracts, were often overlooked.

TR19 was revised in 2013 to mirror the international standard BS EN 15780 that was published in 2011 and established safe levels of ventilation hygiene for all types of buildings. HTM 03-01 also sets parameters for hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

Buildings are separated into low, medium and high risk categories in the standard; and Friend suggested that owners may decide their facility needs to move into a higher risk category as a result of changes brought about by the crisis. This will mean it would be subject to more frequent ventilation cleaning.

TR19 provides the methodology for carrying out hygiene work in line with the standards and for keeping comprehensive, accurate records of cleaning. It also links to the Ventilation Hygiene Elite (VHE) scheme, which is operated by the Association’s certification arm BESCA.

This is a self-certification system allowing firms to demonstrate compliance and competence and is the only way for firms to prove they are carrying out work in line with TR19.

“There is now much greater focus on the whole area of competence and compliance in light of the changes coming through the Hackitt Review,” said Duncan Sibbald, Head of Certification at BESA. “Companies will have to provide proper evidence of their competence under the new regulatory regime.

“The VHE scheme was developed by the industry for the industry and allows firms to self-certify and provide reassurance to the client that their system has been cleaned to the right standard.”

Sibbald added that the scheme was recognised by the RISCAuthority, which is backed by insurance companies. It is also an example of the kind of record keeping required by the Hackitt recommendations for a ‘Golden Thread’ of information to support the safe operation of buildings.

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