Health

Buildings need redesinging to manage the Covid and future pandemics, experts have warned

There were already fears a nation accustomed to home-working would turn their back on suits and ties.

Now the pandemic could see office workers allowed to wear T-shirts and shorts, to enable better ventilation in the workplace. 

It could also see staff permitted to don woolly jumpers or hoodies in the winter.

Leading engineers have suggested dress codes in the office could become far less strict because of the new post-Covid importance of keeping windows open, which makes air conditioning potentially less effective, so that workplaces are warmer.

The authors of a report on curbing infection within buildings, commissioned by Chief Scientific Adviser, Patrick Vallance, champion opening windows while advising against some aggressively advertised ‘air-cleaning’ devices.

They say building owners need more guidance on ventilation, and have also called for more investigation into whether hand driers increase the risk of infection.

 Workers in England could be told to ditch formal office wear, so they can cope with windows being open all year round to limit transmission of Covid

Record 500,000 Brits are sentenced to self-isolation as union warns factories are ‘on verge of shutting’ with 900 Nissan workers told to stay at home

A record half-a-million Brits were told to self-isolate by NHS Covid app last week, amid mounting concerns over the chaos triggered by the ‘pingdemic’.

Unions have warned factories across the country are on the ‘verge of shutting’ down, with tens of thousands of workers urged to quarantine at home by the app.

Up to 900 workers at car giant Nissan’s flagship plant in Sunderland are being made to self-isolate, it was claimed today.

Around 10 per cent of staff working at the Japanese car firm’s manufacturing site in Sunderland were pinged by the app.

People told to isolate by the app are under no legal requirement to do so because their identity is not tracked by the software.

But fears have been raised that the software could cripple the nation’s already fragile economy this summer when restrictions are completely lifted.

Businesses demanding a re-think of the rules have warned supermarket shelves may be left empty if tens of thousands of workers are told they must self-isolate in the coming weeks.

There are also fears piles of rubbish may pile up in the street some bin collections in Liverpool have already been cancelled from next week because too many staff are isolating to run the service.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick today admitted No10 was ‘concerned’ about the number of people who may have to self-isolate because of the app.

Official figures released today show the contact-tracing app sent out 520,000 self-isolation alerts last week.

Professor Shaun Fitzgerald, director of research at Centre for Climate Repair, Cambridge University, and one of the authors of the report, told journalists: ‘This is really important, that you encourage dress codes for not just winter, but to adapt to the environment that you’re in.

‘Because if you allow people to dress, for example, even in shorts and T-shirts in the summer, what that can do is it can therefore make an environment more pleasant.

‘Unfortunately one of the temptations, certainly in buildings that have got opening windows and these split air conditioning units, is that if you want a nice comfortable environment in a heatwave, is to close the windows and turn the air conditioning on.

‘That’s not what we recommend. We recommend in a pandemic situation to have bountiful amounts of fresh air, as much as you can tolerate, and actually that will mean that the air conditioning system won’t be that effective, and therefore you’re going to be looking at different ways of keeping comfortable and cool.’

Dr Hywel Davies, technical director of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, who also contributed to the report, suggested staff might wear woolly jumpers or hoodies in the winter, or be seated away from open windows.

Lockdown rules in England are due to end on Monday, with many employees expected to return to the office.

That makes the report on healthy buildings conducted by a National Engineering Policy Centre working group, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), timely.

Professor Peter Guthrie, vice president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said attention to ventilation had been ‘lax’ in a majority of buildings.

Part of the problem is that people worried about coronavirus may be more reassured by seeing hand sanitiser stations, one-way systems and clean surfaces than hearing that an invisible ventilation system is working well – despite its importance in stopping airborne spread of the virus.

The report warns that technological solutions are not a ‘silver bullet’, with a lack of evidence for some ‘air-cleaning’ solutions, which may put chemicals into the air that can cause respiratory and skin infections.

However touch-free doors and lift buttons may be useful, as well as digital apps and carbon dioxide monitors which can help to understand how well ventilated a building is.

Engineers looked at hospitals, care homes, hospitality, schools and public transport, and want companies to be incentivised for improving ventilation, which could mean reducing VAT.

Key recommendations are that the Government should work out the skills needed, commission research to understand risks in buildings better, and balance climate change targets like Net Zero with the importance of infection control.

Dr Davies said: ‘Clear communication on ventilation is essential – we need to support owners and operators with clear and simple guidance, emphasising the importance of improving ventilation while maintaining wider good practice on infection control.’


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