Air conditioning & COVID-19

HSE Guidance issued on 25.06.20

The risk of air conditioning spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) in the workplace is extremely low.

You can continue using most types of air conditioning system as normal. But, if you use a centralised ventilations system that removes and circulates air to different rooms it is recommended that you turn off recirculation and use a fresh air supply.

You do not need to adjust air conditioning systems that mix some of the extracted air with fresh air and return it to the room as this increases the fresh air ventilation rate. Also, you do not need to adjust systems in individual rooms or portable units as these operate on 100% recirculation.

If you’re unsure, ask the advice of your heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineer or adviser.

General ventilation

Employers must, by law, ensure an adequate supply of fresh air in the workplace and this has not changed.

Good ventilation can help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus, so focus on improving general ventilation, preferably through fresh air or mechanical systems.

Where possible, consider ways to increase the supply of fresh air, for example, by opening windows and doors (unless fire doors).

Also consider if you can improve the circulation of outside air and prevent pockets of stagnant air in occupied spaces. You can do this by using ceiling fans, desk fans or opening windows, for example.

The risk of transmission through the use of ceiling and desk fans is extremely low.

If you require further information or advice regarding any aspects of COVID-19 controls including risk assessments, please contact phil.jones@qcompliance.co.uk

Sprinklers Required In 11m Residential Buildings

In response to its consultation on Approved Document B of the Building Regulations (ADB), the Government announced sprinklers must be installed in high rise residential buildings of 11m or taller.

The government announced the publication of its response to the consultation it undertook on ADB, publishing at the same time an amendment to ADB that ‘extends the provision of sprinklers in blocks of high-rise residential buildings to those buildings with a top floor height of 11 metres above ground level’. This announcement also contained ‘new guidance on consistent wayfinding signage’ for fire and rescue service (FRS) personnel in such buildings.

Its response was sent out in circular letters to council leaders and chief executives, as well as building control heads, approved inspectors and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), with the government pointing out that hard copies of both volume one (referring to dwellings) and volume two (buildings other than dwellings) would be published later this year ‘when the changes take effect’ on 26 November.

In summary, the changes ‘focus on residential blocks of flats and mixed-use buildings containing flats’, with the two main amendments to ‘apply to building works in a block of flats or mixed-use buildings containing flats with a top floor more than 11 metres above ground level’. This includes erecting new buildings, material alterations, material changes of use and extensions, with the response focusing on the sprinklers first.

The amended ADB will reduce the height threshold for sprinklers in residential blocks of flats from 30m to 11m, and ‘as a result of the change’ the table reflecting minimum periods of fire resistance ‘will also be amended when these changes take effect to reflect that a block of flats without a sprinkler system above 11 metres is not permitted if following the guidance’ in ADB.

Appendix E will see ‘no changes’, and ‘continue to recommend that sprinkler systems in residential blocks of flats are installed in accordance with the recommendations’ of BS 9251: 2014 Fire sprinkler systems for domestic and residential occupancies. Code of practice – or BS EN 12845: 2015 + A1: 2019 Fixed firefighting systems. Automatic sprinkler systems. Design, installation and maintenance ‘for residential blocks of flats outside of the scope’ of BS 9251.

Approved documents ‘will continue to note that sprinklers in residential blocks of flats do not need to be provided in common areas when these are fire sterile’.

Moving to the wayfinding signage element, the response said that the amendments ‘set out guidance for the provision of consistent wayfinding signage for use’ by FRS personnel in residential blocks of flats ‘with a top storey more than 11 metres above ground level’.

Signage should include ‘floor identification and flat indicator signs which provide information relating to the flats that are accessed on each floor’, the amendments setting out the ‘recommended locations for this’ and guidance on typeface and wording. No particular material or technology is ‘prescribe[d]’, but the amendments ‘set out that the signage should be on a contrasting background, easily legible and readable in low level lighting conditions or when illuminated with a torch’.

It adds that designers ‘should satisfy themselves and the relevant Building Control body that their choice of design will meet these conditions’. The two main amendments were also discussed in reference to extensions to buildings, with applicants and building control bodies ‘reminded of the need to consider these new provisions in relation to extensions’.

New accommodation created by building work ‘should meet the relevant requirements having considered the guidance’, which means ‘ensuring that the standard of fire protection for the occupants of the new accommodation is as would be provided for a new building under the approved document’.

In most cases, sprinklers and signage ‘will be necessary in any newly formed accommodation that falls above the new 11m trigger height’, and it ‘may also be necessary to consider’ additional protection for existing parts of the building ‘where needed to ensure that the extension is compliant with the applicable requirements’, by ensuring that ‘the level of fire protection in the building as a whole is made no worse’.

The government concluded that there ‘may also be situations where the risk assessment for the building requires further work to be done’, and ‘regardless of the minimum requirements of the regulations there is, of course, merit in providing additional protection throughout the building’.