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Schools must rethink infection control say building engineers

THE government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has commissioned a group of leading engineers to investigate how buildings can be redesigned and retrofitted to make them more infection resilient. Schools and how they are designed will be one of the main focus areas of the research.

Sir Patrick has also asked the group to establish what should be done ahead of the coming winter so that buildings and transport can operate in a way that reduces the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

The group, which has been formed under the auspices of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the National Engineering Policy Centre, has already produced an initial report, Infection Resilient Environments: Buildings that keep us healthy and safe.

The engineers pull no punches with their findings, saying: “The Covid-19 crisis has revealed flaws in the way in which we design, manage and operate buildings, that if left unchecked will disrupt management of this and other pandemics, impose high financial and health costs on society, and constrain our ability to address other challenges such as climate change.”

In a sharp indictment of the competence of the sector, the report adds: “The ability for even well-designed buildings to provide a good indoor environment and effective infection control is impacted by quality assurance issues.”

Their number one message for reducing the risk of Covid-19 and other infections is to focus on ensuring good ventilation inside public buildings and on transport systems. That requires, the report says, consistent communication and advice on ventilation from government and professional bodies to help building owners and operators to manage infection risks for the winter. More strategically, it adds that greater attention should be paid to the design and commissioning of ventilation systems.

Currently says the report, most owners and occupiers have only a modest level of relevant knowledge and skills, and there is an urgent need to put in place the training, re-skilling and recruitment to address this deficiency.

The report states that infection control is an important part of a healthy indoor environment and it should be designed into buildings and transport. Designers and their clients need to consider:

• The design, installation and commissioning of ventilation systems and how well their ventilation is maintained and operated.

• The way buildings are cleaned and the provision of sufficient facilities for hygiene and sanitation. • Levels of occupation and how layout influences the way people use buildings and how building design manages the potential for crowding and bottlenecks.

• How infection is reduced by managing interactions such as touching handles and lift buttons

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