As soon as Government restrictions allow, the UK will steadily begin returning to the office, bringing commercial buildings to life once again. It is therefore essential that we plan to re-mobilise building’s M&E systems in preparation for this, keeping safety as a priority.
Our Technical Regional Manager Vince, along with Business Development Manager Elizabeth, have provided their advice on how to plan for this and what we can expect.
Elizabeth: It is highly likely that the restrictions will be lifted via a staggered process which will need to be adopted alongside a Staged Occupancy Plan. From this plan the buildings operations will have to adapt but from the offset there are a few things I can envisage occurring: Reduced occupancy levels, shift patterns, the continued closure of communal areas and implementation of behavioural policies, to name a few. These adaptations will help to maintain social distancing whilst keeping a focus on hygiene, site safety and clean environments.
Vince: Based on current guidance, there will likely be major changes in relation to office staffing levels, changes to access in and out of buildings, usage of lifts, changes to cleaning regimes, screening measures put in place for people entering the building, checking for signs of covid-19 infection, enforced PPE requirements.
How do you think some of the points mentioned may impact the way that we work?
Elizabeth: Whilst we are strictly adhering to social distancing measures and the use of PPE, we will need to be flexible to the individual requirements of each building. This may include walking routes around site, location of sanitisation stations, potential temperature checks on entry and updated attendance times due to updated working patterns of tenants and landlord staff.
Vince: There is a suggestion that there could be a rotation of staff across the week into smaller groups, enabling staff to be spaced out across floors and minimising the risk of passing of the Virus. Lift usage could decrease to only one person at a time to reduce risk. A huge review of site risks on a case by case basis would need to be carried out to ensure safe working to avoid risk of possible prosecution in the future. Management of these items alone will be a huge logistical task to facilities management teams.
For buildings that have been ticking over whilst empty, what changes will we have to put in place to bring everything back to normal?
Vince: Once a review of the risk assessments have taken place and information provided to us, we could then pay particular attention to areas of risk. For example, it may be required that water samples are taken prior to reoccupation. Or, more drastically a site wide chlorination of the system, to reduce risk of walking into a building with a legionella issue. Any outstanding maintenance would be vital to be completed to ensure optimum operation of the plant. All Statutory tasks would need to be completed, if not already ongoing, as an absolute necessity in line with compliance.
Elizabeth: In addition to the hard service requirements, soft services will also have to adapt to any new initiatives that the government releases. Cleaning processes will move to single-use clothes, uptake in harsher chemicals such as bleach and disinfectants as standard for daily cleans and increased frequency of cleans are possible changes once the building is in use.
What additional changes will need to be made to the plant operation to meet industry guidance?
Vince: In line with Rehva guidance, it is recommended that there is an increase in running hours of both office and toilet supply/extract air plant, to ensure dilution of any bacteria that may be in the air, this includes closing of any re-circulation systems to stop cross contamination. This could also affect the running of Fan Coil units where it is common for return grilles/plenums to be shared, again increasing risk of airborne bacteria transfer throughout office space. This may mean Fan Coil units being completely turned off.
Are there any knock on effects regarding running the plant differently for our clients?
Vince: The main effects will be the increased energy consumption, which in turn increases service charges to tenants. This also means an increased strain on plant to run for extended periods, decreasing the life expectancy. The environmental impact will also come into play affecting EPC ratings to buildings as a possible side affect.
Elizabeth: I agree, energy will be a huge factor going forward. The 24/7 running of the AHU and extract, mimicking hospitals plant, will use more energy. Landlords and Managing Agents are going to have to look for other ways to offset energy use on site.
Is there any additional servicing that needs to be done before buildings can be re-occupied?
Vince: Again this would be entirely based on site specific risk assessment guidance, referring back to water sampling as a major factor for consideration, air quality monitoring and re-balancing of the fresh air systems may even be required to maximise air turnover. Older Air handling units could be prone to poor performance due to increased load and possible dirt build-up on coils, this in turn could require a deep chemical clean to the AHU to increase performance prior to occupation.