Businesses are being reminded that they have a legal duty to ensure that their premises have an adequate supply of fresh air in enclosed areas as part of a broad strategy to minimise the risk of the coronavirus from spreading via workplaces.
With most COVID-19 restrictions lifted, Great Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has updated its guidance on ventilation and air conditioning as part of a package of preventative measures to help safely manage the increasing number of people returning to the workplace and to reduce infection risk.
The guidance explains how natural and mechanical ventilation can reduce coronavirus in the air while also reiterating the importance of workers keeping clean and washing their hands frequently. The updated advice also reemphasises the importance of risk assessments to identify other control measures such as social distancing and the wearing of masks.
People can improve natural ventilation in the workplace by doing simple things like opening windows and doors.
The use of CO2 monitors in the workplace can also help. Although CO2 levels are not a direct measure of possible exposure to COVID-19, checking levels using a monitor can help you identify poorly ventilated areas.
The HSE has announced that it will continue to carry out spot checks and inspections to support businesses and ensure they understand its working safely guidance.
Employers should prioritise preventative measures and adds that good ventilation will play a critical role in controlling the risk of coronavirus as businesses increasingly encourage home-based staff to return after a prolonged period working remotely.
Risk assessments must be in place to identify COVID-19 as a hazard and the associated risks. They will also identify who is at most risk and the measures to take. Companies should revisit their COVID risk assessment frequently to ensure that any additional controls necessary are identified to make the workplace secure from the virus.
Employee engagement is critical to managing risks successfully. To maximise buy-in and thereby improve the effectiveness of risk assessments, the HSE has produced a separate guide to help employers consult with staff on how to work safely.
IOSH has published its own return to work guidance, which notes that while masks and social distancing have been the more visible signs of controls, good ventilation is a largely unseen, albeit highly effective, measure to control the risk of infection.
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