Building owners and managers advised to prepare HVAC systems for the return of workers
Before reopening after a period of shutdown, building heating and cooling systems should be thoroughly inspected and serviced to avoid health and safety risks such as legionella, airborne mould and poor air quality, as well as damage to building plant and equipment.
Executive Director of the Air Conditioning & Mechanical Contractors' Association, Mr Sumit Oberoi, warned that any period of shutdown can negatively impact the performance of heating, ventilation and cooling systems (HVAC).
“Commercial and industrial buildings—including offices, retail, hospitality venues, warehouses, universities and others—are usually designed for continuous operation. They rarely shut down for longer than a few days over Easter or Christmas," said Mr Oberoi.
“As a result, HVAC systems rely on continuous operation for optimal performance. They also need to be supported by regular service and maintenance.”
“Understandably, many building owners and facility managers have sought to reduce operational costs over recent weeks by shutting down or reducing the capacity of their heating, ventilation and cooling systems.”
“In some cases, routine service and maintenance activities that are essential to system performance have been put-off.”
"As we begin to prepare our workforce to return to work, we also need to prepare our buildings. People must be going back to a safe and healthy work environment.”
Buildings that have been idle for even a few days can have legionella build up in stagnant water piping. Bacteria and mould can gather in HVAC systems. And fire safety and smoke control systems also need to be inspected and tested.
“It's critical that the essential safety measures within a building are operational," Mr Oberoi said.
“Obviously building owners want to make sure that occupants are safe, but they also need to be aware of their regulatory obligations.”
Each state regulates building safety measures differently, but most require owners to have essential safety measures (ESM) routinely monitored, inspected, tested and maintained. These measures include fire protection, smoke control, microbial control (e.g. legionella) and others.
“Our advice to building owners and facility managers is to, firstly, know and understand the National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles.”
"We also recommend they obtain the relevant information for their sector from the recently updated Safe Work Australia website."
"Finally, we encourage them to engage with their HVAC service and maintenance provider. The risks associated with reopening a building can be readily managed with appropriate advice, service and maintenance."
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