Recovering from Covid-19 Building Closures – Indoor Environmental Quality

The AIHA (American Industrial Hygiene Association) has issued a concise guidance document* on managing the risks of re-opening businesses after the initial lockdowns as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

They identify the environmental risks to be addressed after buildings or operations were quickly closed, often without time to do it properly, and without implementing shutdown maintenance programmes. Although identified by the American association, many of their recommendations can be replicated in Australia, as the risks outlined are the same worldwide.

Maintaining Indoor Environmental Conditions

Controlling relative humidity is extremely important, if left unmanaged conditions can lead to mould and moisture damage. We’ve already received information and evidence of this occurring in countries, such as Singapore, due to their hot and high humidity climate.

Building, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems are designed to operate under a specific heat load produced by people, computers and lights. If this changes significantly, like we seen with the shift to wfh (working from home) this will alter the relative humidity levels.

It’s important to operate the buildings HVAC and mechanical systems to minimise relative humidity during shutdown periods to reduce the risk of mould growth, as this could lead to the need of remediation before the building can open again.

Maintaining Building Water Systems

A buildings water system is critical to its safe operation and directly related to the health and well-being of its occupants. The risk of waterbourne pathogens, specifically Legionella bacteria is increased when water sits stagnant for long periods of time in water mains, building plumbing lines, water fountains and cooling towers. Building operators have a duty of care to ensure water lines are effectively disinfected and flushed, or to address any bacterial growth that has occurred.

Assessments of pipe conditions and preventative measures against the risk of contamination should be implemented and remedial activities rolled out if necessary. Taking these actions before the building is re-opened is needed before its occupants are allowed back, minimising the risk of unsafe exposure to potential hazards including Legionella.

Cleaning and Disinfecting Occupied Spaces

The continuous cleaning of a building, even if shut down, not only has health implications for limiting the spread of viruses like Covid-19 but also for other hazards which can occur when buildings are left unattended and unmonitored. These can include pest infestations, increased dust particles or chemical leaking hazards.

As we navigate through his next stage of the Covid-19 pandemic it is essential that buildings are correctly cleaned and disinfected before they re-open, with evidence of how this process will be maintained, to actively limit the spread of the virus as compliant with SafeWork Australia guidance.

Selecting the appropriate and most effective disinfectant and understanding how effective that solution has been on a surface, relies on knowledgeable consultants who use analysis equipment to fully test the surface.

Many industrial hygienists and infection control professionals have the expertise to review toxicity and efficacy of disinfectant chemicals, identify safe remediation practices, assess the risk of COVID-19, and develop management plans to control other building-related hazards such as Legionella and mould.

AES is committed to helping businesses to get back up and running and offer several solutions to help you, or your customers do this. These include, Bactiquant Water for bacteria in water,  Bactiquant Surface monitor for post cleaning, a range of air sampling pumps including Gray Wolf indoor air quality monitors, used extensively in healthy building applications, and thermal fever detection monitoring.

If you have any other concerns about re-opening of buildings, please just get in touch.

*The full guidance document Recovering from COVID-19 Building Closures from AIHA can be found here.