A new report on infection resilient environments has been published by the Royal Academy of Engineering and its partners in the National Engineering Policy Centre. Commissioned by the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, it calls for improved ventilation and air cleaning in public spaces to help prevent the transmission of Covid-19 and future viruses.
The report summary says “There is a moment of opportunity to make a transformational change to how we design and manage our buildings to create good, healthy and sustainable environments for those who use them. Many of these changes have relevance well beyond COVID-19”.
The report emphasises the importance of preparing before winter, when respiratory infections are usually more prevalent. One of the recommendations is that government and professional engineering bodies should provide rapid and specific technical guidance to enable owners and operators to select and effectively implement appropriate technology.
It says that air cleaning using high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and germicidal ultraviolet light (UVC) can be effective at reducing infection risks in locations where good ventilation is difficult to achieve. It also calls for new regulation and evidence of effectiveness to support manufacturers’ claims.
Key recommendations include:
1. Government should provide support to map the knowledge and skills requirements across the building industry, general businesses, and the engineering professions to manage buildings in a way which minimises infection risks. It should then work with professional bodies, sector skills organisations and training boards to put in place plans to address the skills gaps identified.
2. Working with the National Core Studies Programme, UKRI and the National Academies, government should put in place an action plan to address key research gaps on an accelerated basis.
3. Government should undertake a rapid review of the capacity and capability requirements among regulators (including local authorities) to support and enforce standards in maintaining buildings for public health.
4. Demonstration projects should be commissioned to fill specific knowledge gaps to underwrite regulation and enforcement such as the acceptable minimum standards for ventilation to manage infection risk.
5. Government policy on net zero must be developed in a way that is consistent with priorities around indoor air quality and making buildings resilient to infection.
6. Government and its agencies should collaborate to rapidly develop and deliver clear communications aimed at building owners and operators with the lowest capability, emphasising the importance of improving ventilation whilst maintaining wider good practice on infection control.
7. Communications should be accompanied by guidance, available via trusted and widely accessible sources, to support owners and operators to establish an appropriate balance of measures to manage infection risks, alongside thermal comfort, air quality and energy efficiency.
8. Government and professional engineering bodies should provide rapid and specific technical guidance to enable owners and operators to select and effectively implement appropriate technology.
9. Government should provide incentives to encourage private and public sector organisations to improve the poorest performing spaces in buildings.
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