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Last edited 03 Jul 2020
Building services and health risk resilient buildings
Organisations are considering bringing people back into work premises, be it offices or other buildings. COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions and successful homeworking will result, without doubt, in reduced occupation rates in buildings. Building operators in some areas, such as offices and higher education, expect the occupancy rate to be between 25% and 40% of the March 2020 (pre-lockdown) level.
 Risk assessments for return to work
Those who come back to buildings are often anxious about the health risks such return might pose, and it is employers’ legal responsibility to ensure safety of those entering workplaces. A COVID-19 risk assessment must be carried out on every premises and actions need to be undertaken to provide reassurance to those coming back to work.
Employees expect to return to workplaces where their health has been considered with existing risk assessments reviewed, and new, COVID-19 related risk assessments drawn up for completing tasks. Properly operating and well-maintained building services will be crucial to building operators in providing workplaces that minimise aspects of COVID-19 related health and safety hazards. Strategic facilities management also has a crucial role to play in ensuring the health and wellbeing of the workplace occupants.
 The role of building services
BSRIA has always emphasised the importance of operational building services. Varying occupancy loads will require flexible services, and with it the role of regular, high quality maintenance of systems will grow. Heating, cooling and water services are at the core of building operation, although as part of a basic service expectation their visibility to occupiers has been scarce.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought ventilation into the centre of attention and with it the need for reassurance related to the quality and control of ventilation systems. Ventilation rates, air quality levels and humidity are all primary considerations, resulting in the emphasis on maintenance.
Regular maintenance ensures adherence to prescribed or adopted standards. Its role has been underplayed for years; however, it is crucial in providing reassurance that all building HVAC systems perform as well as they should, creating safe and healthy working environments.
Water system maintenance is a key part of the water safety plan in buildings. It allows building owners to manage legionella and other waterborne pathogen related risks and to prevent leakage and corrosion, saving companies trouble, disruption and money.
Well maintained and controlled HVAC and water systems ensure health-risk resilient buildings. They are also fundamental to the improvement of building users’ wellbeing. It is most likely that post COVID-19 there will be a trend towards wellbeing and comfort as the notion of wellbeing will start merging with the expectations for health security.
Well maintained HVAC and water systems are also crucial for the management of energy use in buildings. Effective, high quality building services are an indispensable component of building energy efficiency programmes.
 The new normal
In the post COVID-19 era, organisations will be facing the new normal that, for buildings, will see demands for climate resilience, health risk resilience and wellbeing merging into a bigger framework to work within, with the golden thread of buildings’ flexibility requirements running through it.
This article was originally published as Building services have a key role to play in delivering health risk resilient buildings on the BSRIA website in June 2020. It was written by Peter Tse, Business Manager, BSRIA Sustainable Construction Group.
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