Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH), the Property Council of Australia, and Facility Management Association (FMA) are calling on building owners and facilities managers to commence careful planning for the safe reopening of commercial buildings and workplaces across Australia. 

Following recent announcements from national cabinet and state governments, COVID-19 restrictions are beginning to ease around the country. The time is right to take action to ensure a smooth transition for businesses to return to their workplace in the coming weeks. 

“If we want to get our society and economy up and running again as quickly as possible after COVID-19, it is absolutely essential that we maintain our workplaces now,” says AIRAH CEO Tony Gleeson, M.AIRAH. 

Safe Work Australia has issued comprehensive guidance on how businesses can plan a safe return to work and we strongly encourage members to access these resources here. 

For building owners and building managers who have partially or completely shut down HVAC systems within your buildings (“hibernating buildings”) during this period of restricted activity, there are important safety considerations for you to address prior to re-opening your buildings to workers. 

Restarting HVAC systems in hibernating buildings can carry some significant risks including outbreaks of Legionella, reduced indoor air quality and damage to building systems. Precautions must be taken to avoid serious consequences. 

The following information is for building owners and facilities managers looking to prepare for the reopening of their commercial buildings. As well as adhering to this advice, we strongly recommend you consult a building services expert when restarting buildings after hibernation. 

The FMA has a number of resources to support members reopening buildings here and the Property Council has summarised links to relevant guidance for building owners here

Risk of Legionella and damage to building systems 

Cooling towers and condenser water systems can experience significant issues when shut down. These include corrosion build-ups on system surfaces that haven’t been chemically treated, and dead legs in water systems which may harbour Legionella. AIRAH has a suite of resources on cooling towers and Legionella prevention at 

Internal air quality and mould issues 

If ventilation systems have been shut down completely rather than operated at reduced levels, occupants returning to the building may face health risks associated with low indoor air quality and mould. Measures must be taken to identify and address these issues before they are reopened for business. For more information on HVAC hygiene, refer to AIRAH’s Best Practice Guideline

Compliance problems 

Essential safety and maintenance measures must be kept up-to-date, even if the building has been unoccupied, otherwise the statutory maintenance regime may be deemed non-compliant – and the building should not be occupied. AIRAH provides training on Essential Safety Measures. It has also recently published a revised edition of DA19 – HVAC&R Maintenance, which covers compliance maintenance. 

If a complex HVAC system has been shut down, experts should be consulted to implement the correct start-up procedures, to check control settings, and to compare the system’s operation with commissioning baseline data.