The Government must seize the post-pandemic opportunity to mandate long-term improvements to infection control in commercial, public and residential buildings to reduce the transmission of future waves of COVID-19, new pandemics, seasonal influenza and other infectious diseases, according to a report published today (June 13 2022) by the National Engineering Policy Centre (NEPC).

Even without the extreme circumstances of a pandemic, the report estimates that seasonal diseases cost the country as much as £8 billion a year in disruption and sick days. Improving ventilation, air quality and sanitation in buildings could minimise transmission, reducing the number of people infected, thereby saving lives and reducing ill health and its societal impacts.

Buildings and transport systems should be designed, operated, managed and regulated for infection control, says the report, because these elements are critical to minimise transmission.

However, the pandemic has highlighted that many of the UK’s buildings are not being operated according to the current air quality standards, because they were built to previous standards or before standards were introduced, they have been modified over time, or are not operated as originally intended. People should be able to have confidence that the air in the buildings they use is safe to breathe, just as they would expect the water to be safe to drink.

As well as reducing the impacts of future pandemics, seasonal flu and the associated economic and social costs, the report identifies additional benefits from improving infection resilience. For example, improved ventilation has been proven to reduce infection risks, boost productivity and alleviate asthma and general exposure to air pollutants that can contribute to ‘sick building syndrome’.

The report makes eight recommendations to enshrine infection resilience in building regulations and improve the health of our indoor environments, which include:

  • Establishing best practice – the British Standards Institution (BSI) should convene the relevant expertise and develop meaningful standards that are embedded into existing design and operational practices.
  • Promoting building health – the UK Health Security Agency should promote the benefits of infection resilience and good indoor air quality to building and transport owners and the public through signage and ratings in a similar way to food or water standards.
  • Ensuring that buildings operate as designed in terms of infection resilience – industry bodies and public procurement must drive improvements to the commissioning and testing of building systems at handover, and subsequently over the life of a building.
  • Establishing in-use regulations with local authorities by 2030 to maintain standards of safe and healthy building performance over the building lifetime.
  • Ensuring Government departments such as BEIS, DfT and DLUHC consider incorporating infection resilience into major retrofit programmes designed to meet the commitments of the Net Zero Strategy.

Click for more information on our own approach to ensuring optimum Indoor Air Quality.

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