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How can ventilation be improved in pubs post-lockdown?

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With the COVID-19 lockdown easing what steps can pubs take to ensure their ventilation is fit for purpose as they prepare to reopen their premises? Jenny Smith, Head of Marketing at Vent-Axia explains how ventilation plays a vital part in this preparation to help protect both customers and employees.

It’s all systems go as hurried preparations are now under way for pubs reopening following Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirming on 23 June that lockdown would ease from 4 July. This announcement means not only can pubs reopen but there is also a relaxing of social distancing from 2m to 1m-plus while taking “mitigations to reduce the risk of transmission” including “improving ventilation”. This isvery welcome news for the pub industry. But, with current Government guidance lacking detail on practical ventilation measures, how should pubs meet their duty of care regarding health and safety to help protect both their employees and customers from COVID-19 transmission?

Different enemy, same solution

Fortunately, many pubs will have previous experience in dealing with an enemy in the air. Before the 2007 smoking ban pubs were a very different place to today, there was a different enemy, smoking. To ensure a pub didn’t resemble the Great Smog of London, publicans installed effective ventilation, clearing the air and extracting the harmful cigarette smoke. Today we cannot see the enemy but we can extract it in the same way as cigarette smoke.

When smoking was allowed in pubs, ventilation guidance​ was to replace the air in a room every 8 minutes to extract the smoke and create a healthier indoor environment, protecting staff and customers. Today the same solution can be used in the fight against this new invisible enemy while helping pubs maintain a COVID-secure establishment. Installed and correctly commissioned in pubs, fans will extract the polluted air, including any viruses, replacing it with fresh air every 8 minutes, thereby diluting the impact of the virus and reducing transmission.

Practical Measures

So, what steps can publicans take to help ensure their pubs are well ventilated? Recent Government guidance ‘Keeping workers and customers safe during COVID-19 in restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services’ ​says steps that will usually be needed before reopening include: “Checking ​whether you need to service or adjust ventilation systems, for example so that they do not automatically reduce ventilation levels due to lower than normal occupancy levels​.”

For publicans wanting to check if their ventilation is up to the task here are some simple steps to follow to find out what to do next to tackle COVID-19 in your pub:

  • Risk assessments​ – The Government guidance sets out that businesses need to undertake a risk assessment to ensure they meet their duty of care to protect workers and others from risk to their health and safety, and then reduce risk to the lowest reasonably practical level by taking preventative measures. Therefore, publicans should first ensure their premises are adequately ventilated and check whether existing extract fans are installed.
  • Repair or replace​ – If extract fans are installed, it should be checked whether they are in working order. If not, they should be repaired or replaced. Publicans can speak to their facilities manager (FM), ventilation specialist or ventilation manufacturer for advice on their ventilation systems
  • Airflow​ - At this time airflow levels should be supplying as much outside air as possible, if current ventilation does not provide enough air changes an hour then additional ventilation units may be needed. Pubs can again seek advice from their FM, ventilation specialist or manufacturer.
  • Spare parts​ – Pubs that already have a Vent-Axia T-Series installed can contact Vent-Axia if their unit requires parts or replacements.
  • Reassure customers​ – Vent-Axia is issuing a free COVID-AWARE window sticker with every T-Series fan purchase to help reassure customers when pubs reopen.

It’s understandable some pubs may think upgrading ventilation is a big job, but this just isn’t the case at all with the right product. Ease of installation and replacement is an important factor when choosing ventilation products, especially at the moment, since this saves time on site and so reduces costs. Today it is simple to replace traditional extract/supply fans with modern alternatives which will reliably supply effective ventilation and offer an energy efficient solution to help reduce running costs.

For example, Vent-Axia’s Lo-Carbon T-Series Fan​ range can simply replace traditional commercial extract/supply fans with a low carbon alternative as it’s compatible with existing fan sizes allowing for easy replacement. Available in 6, 7, 9 and 12-inch options, the range includes wall, window, roof, panel, and inline variants, as well as variable fixings to help with different window and wall thicknesses, making installation simple. Many pubs will already have a Vent-Axia T-Series installed since the trusted T-Series has been the industry's no.1 commercial ventilation unit for over 30 years. Due to its continued popularity, when older models of the T-Series need replacing it’s straightforward to replace like-for-like with no need for re-wiring, thus saving time on site.

Pub landlords should also be assured it may not be necessary to replace existing fans that have been neglected since the smoking ban. Fans can be serviced by contractors and repaired if a part is needed. Our T-Series fan has been a popular fan in pubs since 1986 and at Vent-Axia we still hold parts. We have an established spares department which has a wide range of products available allowing fans to be repaired whenever possible.

Why ventilate?

There is no doubt that ventilation is important when it comes to helping reduce virus transmission inside buildings. Ensuring ventilation works effectively and does not under-ventilate is critical to reduce airborne transmission of COVID-19 and so is essential inside pubs, especially where the 2m rule is relaxed to 1m-plus resulting in a denser building occupation.

Ventilation has also already featured repeatedly in the Government’s guidance on COVID-19. ‘Keep Indoor Places Well Ventilated'​ – is one of the key principles set out in the Government’s COVID-19 return to work strategy published on 11 May 2020. The document also says ‘Evidence suggests that the virus is less likely to be passed on in well-ventilated buildings and outdoors’​ and advises to ‘Use external extractor fans to keep spaces well ventilated and make sure that ventilation systems are set to maximise the fresh air flow rate’​.

Plus, an earlier statement by Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at Government’s COVID-19 press briefing on 29 April 2020 confirmed “There is a definite truism across all of the science literature, that ventilation is a most critical part of reducing transmission from respiratory viruses.​” Since then there has been a raft of research pointing to airborne-transmission of the virus.

Meanwhile there has also been very useful practical industry guidance on ventilation published by Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers ‘CIBSECOVID-19 Ventilation Guidance’​ which explains how building managers/operators can minimise the risks of airborne transmission of COVID-19. Here the overarching advice is to increase the air supply and exhaust ventilation, supplying as much outside air as is reasonably possible to dilute and remove the virus as much as possible.

With ventilation named as one of the most important factors when it comes to mitigating this risk of COVID-19 transmission inside, it is essential to improve airflow in pubs to help landlords meet their duty of care and to protect employees and customers. Many pubs are keen to get back to business as soon as possible, by clearing the air and extracting the virus is sure to help us to do this more safely.

With over 80 years of ventilation experience, Vent-Axia is committed to public health by improving indoor air quality and so creating a healthy environment. The company is therefore encouraging pubs to become COVID-Aware Establishments by checking they are adequately ventilated according to government guidelines​. For publicans who are unsure about whether their ventilation is adequate or need expert advice Vent-Axia’s technical Support Team is available for advice on 0844 856 0590 or visit https://www.vent-axia.com/tseries​.