With the changing environment experienced around the world due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Airmaster are receiving many queries each day regarding the implications of Air Conditioning, Heating and Ventilating (HVAC) systems, what role they may have in improving air quality, and what maintenance requirements are recommended or in some cases mandatory.
During this unprecedented event, in some cases, properties may be operating with minimal employees. Other properties may close completely for a period. We must look at each property separately and assist our customers in making an informed decision around the viability of simply isolating plant and equipment and completing reduced maintenance. Some talk of this process as a Caretaker Maintenance program.
We would like to provide the following updates, notes and recommendations to assist in these key decisions.
What we are doing
Like all other businesses, Airmaster is responding to the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Our Business Continuity Plan has been implemented and we are taking every possible step to limit the impact to employees, customers and other stakeholders. We are closely monitoring and following the health advisories published by the various government
authorities, and have implemented the following measures:
1. Imposed quarantine restrictions on employees returning from government declared
2. Made hand sanitization facilities available in common areas within workspaces.
3. Where possible, staff have been requested to work remotely. Offices remain open, but with minimal employees present.
4. All non-critical travel has been cancelled, with all internal and external meetings conducted through Microsoft Teams, 3CX or similar web-based communications tools.
5. All employee leave requests must indicate travel destinations. Relevant quarantine restrictions will apply at the time of their return.
6. Employees have been clearly advised not to attend work if they display symptoms that could indicate a viral infection: fever, sore throat, cough, etc.
7. Employees have similarly been advised to utilize appropriate personal protective equipment, whilst maintaining high standards of social distancing and hygiene practices.
As COVID-19 has the ability to rapidly spread through the community, Airmaster are applying best practices as advised by health authorities in order to minimise such spread.
In the event of an Airmaster employee contracting the virus, we will immediately review their recent work history and advise any customers if they have been working at their site. Similarly, we request that customers advise their Airmaster representative of any known cases of virus at their sites.
Airmaster service teams are dispersed widely across Australia, working in varying geographical areas throughout our major cities. The ability of office-based employees to work remotely has been fully tested, and we are confident that we will maintain our service levels at this challenging time. We acknowledge that there may be some delays in the delivery of specific equipment, however we will work with customers and suppliers to maintain service as best as possible.
What our clients are doing
Now more than ever, it is important that proactive and preventative maintenance practices are put in place, with activities onsite continuing to be carried out. There may be an inclination to scale back or prevent visitors entering sites as a risk mitigation measure, however it is important that a balanced approach to such measures is considered and maintained.
Ceasing preventative maintenance as a short-term measure may impact the ability of an air handling systems to operate optimally, thus ensuring air quality is maintained in accordance with relevant standards. Air handling systems play an important role in ensuring there is adequate outside air being introduced and that humidity levels are maintained. If the system is not performing such important functions, it may increase the risk of spreading an infection.
Whilst there is no simple, single solution to reducing the risk of transmission of airborne virus particles, consideration should be given to reviewing of the current condition of the air handling plant and investigate any opportunities to enhance current practices in order to minimize risk.
Should equipment be shut down and maintenance services ceased?
This past week has seen the first set of non-essential shutdowns as instructed by the Federal Government. With this, obvious questions have been raised as to what measures should be taken to ‘idle a building’. Whilst the initial inclination may be to shut down all equipment and to put maintenance services on hold, there are implications that will likely have an impact on the ability to restart the equipment safely when the current situation eases.
Air Handling Systems play an important role in relation to microbial control as well as fire and life safety. It is important that at a minimum, caretaker maintenance be carried out consisting of maintenance services in accordance with relevant standards. Caretaker maintenance ensures that the effect on microbial growth is minimized through regular cleaning and cycling of the equipment.
Depending on the application of the building, there may also be a requirement for conditions to be maintained even though the space is not occupied. For example, an application whereby consideration must be given to the building fabric in which controlled temperatures are important to fixtures, fittings and finished surfaces.
Air Handling Systems also have an important role in effective smoke control in the event of a fire. In many instances, there are minimal employees occupying buildings and it is important that Air Handling Systems and Smoke Management Systems are continually maintained and tested to ensure they perform optimally in the event of a fire.
The current situation may even present building owners/tenants with opportunities to complete certain Essential Safety Measures (ESM) maintenance regimes (or capital works upgrades) that can be particularly disruptive for building owners/occupants - such as Full Function Fire Testing - in areas where maintenance (or upgrades) can sometimes be difficult to complete due to the impact on tenants, other building users or building operations i.e. those with 24-hour operations such as hospitals, casinos and the like.
Important Note: Should customers make changes to their building maintenance regime this may result in minimum building standards not being met. We recommend customers immediately notify and consult with their insurance company to better understand what impact any reduction to their building maintenance may have.
Some customers may be considering switching off plant room and associated equipment entirely. Consideration for such course of action should be weighed up against a variety of associated risks, including mould, contamination and corrosion that may occur due to the complex nature of HVAC system operations.
Major assets such as chillers, boilers and cooling tower systems must be appropriately maintained in order to meet legislative requirements and as such should be regularly in operation.
Please contact your Airmaster representative for more information on these important considerations.
Airmaster acknowledges that the most recent government announcements present challenges with respect to our ability to deliver services to our clients.
In addition to regular meetings that have taken place since this crisis began, our operational teams continue to meet with Airmaster’s Board of Directors to discuss how to ensure minimal impact to our employees.
We are mindful that the rapidly changing environment is impacting everyone and as a business, we are doing everything we can to ensure that employee physical, mental and financial health is carefully considered and managed. Our number one priority is to ensure that our business remains viable and that we are able to keep our workers at work. In order to achieve this, some decisions will be made over the coming days and weeks in order to minimise impact to the whole team.