Heating and ventilation systems are critical for maintaining workplace safety in offices, retail outlets and other indoor workplace environments, employers throughout Australia are being warned.

Issuing its latest guidance, Safe Work (SWA) Australia has called on employers to ensure that heating, air-conditioning and ventilation systems (HVAC) are well-maintained and are working properly.

“These three steps will help to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and improve ventilation in indoor settings,” SWA said, referring to the three steps which are outlined below.

“The most effective ways to minimise the risk of COVID-19 infection at your workplace is through ensuring physical distancing, maintaining good hygiene and environmental cleaning.”

In its guidance, Safe Work Australia noted that specific directions applied to some sectors such as healthcare.

For general employer guidance, however, it recommends three steps.

First, it is important to ensure that HVAC systems are operating properly and are regularly maintained and inspected in accordance with national regulations.

Where employers do not mange or control their HVAC system directly, liaising with the building’s facilities manager will be necessary.

Before allowing work to resume after a shutdown, employers should check and confirm that the correct start-up procedures and control settings are in place to reduce risks associated with the HVAC system being restarted.

Next, steps should be taken to improve ventilation.

These can include:

  • Considering adjusting HVAC settings to minimise COVID-19 risk. This includes by not recirculating the air or limiting the level of recirculation.
  • Organising for doors and windows to be open to increase fresh air intake.
  • Checking that exhaust fans in restrooms and other facilities are functional, operating continuously and are at full capacity when the building is occupied.
  • Ensuring that exhaust fans are directed outdoors and away from windows and air intake systems of both your own buildings and any surrounding buildings.
  • In areas containing more than one person, ensure that fans or portable air cleaners or purifiers are used only where fresh air is available and where these are not directly blowing air from one person to another. These need to be maintained and operated in accordance with manufacturers instructions.

Beyond that, Safe Work says other changes can be considered to either limit the number of people within a workplace or limit numbers within certain areas of the workplace.

This will improve the level of airflow and ventilation on a per person basis.

Such measures include:

  • Adjusting workplace layout, floorplan and workstations to maintain distancing between workers (at least 1.5 metres)
  • Staggering start, finish and break times
  • Relocating tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home.
  • Proving individual teams with dedicated meal areas or break facilities.