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News added on 29.06.2020

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Coronavirus

New HSE guidance on re-opening businesses

The HSE has added guidance to its website for employers who are planning to re-open their workplaces as coronavirus lockdown measures are eased. What does it cover?

Relevant to all employers is the guidance on air conditioning and ventilation. By law, employers must ensure an adequate supply of fresh air in the workplace. Good ventilation can help to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus, so employers should try to improve the general ventilation in their workplaces as much as possible, whether through fresh air or mechanical systems. The risk of transmission through the use of ceiling and desk fans is extremely low.

The HSE seeks to reassure employers that the risk of air conditioning spreading coronavirus in the workplace is also extremely low and most types of air conditioning system can be used as normal. However, the HSE recommends that centralised ventilation systems that remove and circulate air to different rooms should not be used on recirculation mode and a fresh air supply used instead.

The HSE has also produced guidance for employers in the manufacturing sector about how to reopen safely following the coronavirus lockdown. As well as putting measures in place to protect their employees from coronavirus, these employers have additional risks to consider created by their premises, plant and machinery being unused for a period of time. For example, the condition of machinery could have degraded, causing components to seize up, crack or fail, process liquids may separate or solidify, and automated machinery may have moved out of calibration.

Machinery and equipment will therefore have to be carefully inspected prior to restarting, and any defects rectified. Restarting machinery and process lines should be treated as recommissioning to ensure that all safety devices and processes are fully operational.

Employers will also have to inspect their premises thoroughly. As well as general workplace safety (such as testing fire alarms, doors and fire-fighting equipment, and ensuring gas and electrical safety), employers need to look out for problems such as:

- flooding or unnoticed loss of process materials;

- signs of wildlife, e.g. birds nesting in vents, exhausts, etc.;

- accumulation of gases or oxygen-depleted atmospheres in poorly ventilated areas;

- stacked goods that may have shifted, especially where organic material may have degraded; and

- water stagnation, which can pose a legionella risk.

The HSE’s guidance clarifies potential concerns about the use of air conditioning systems. There is also specific guidance on the range of risks that employers in the manufacturing sector need to consider before reopening. If employers need advice on their specific air conditioning systems, plant and machinery or premises, they should consult a competent advisor.

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