AIRAH advice on essential services


March 23, 2020

In the ongoing COVID-19 conversation, AIRAH advocates to all state and territory industry ministers for HVAC&R, building maintenance and support services to be clearly identified as essential service providers.

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In these unprecedented times, we applaud the measures the government is taking to guarantee the immediate safety and ongoing wellbeing of our communities.

We have now reached a critical moment, when decisions must be made about which facilities and services should be closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and which are essential, and should therefore continue operating. We understand that you are relying on accurate information from subject matter experts to decide on the best path forward.

In this context, the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH) recommends that HVAC&R, building maintenance and support services be clearly identified as essential service providers.

Key facilities, such as emergency services, healthcare and public health, information technology, communications, energy, food and agriculture, government facilities and transportation systems, are all underpinned by heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration systems. In most cases, if the underlying HVAC&R systems fail, the facilities themselves will fail.

Furthermore, commercial premises will still require building maintenance, even if staff have temporarily vacated. If premises are not maintained, when they are reoccupied the essential safety and maintenance measures will not be up to date, the statutory maintenance regime will not be up to date and therefore not in compliance – and the buildings cannot be occupied.

Obviously, when any measures to control COVID-19 are relaxed, it will be vital to quickly return to normal operations. This will only be possible if our facilities are ready.

In practical terms, there are also serious issues that can arise if buildings are not maintained, particularly in water systems. These include corrosion cells and stagnant water in piping (dead legs) that can subsequently lead to further health issues such as Legionella. Today’s buildings are simply not designed to be shut down for extended periods.

AIRAH calls on the government to ensure that the ongoing safety of our communities is not compromised by the failure of our essential HVAC&R systems. We recommend that any official government direction on “essential services” takes this into account.

Residential premises will also be reliant on HVAC&R. Over the coming months, Australians will be spending more time than usual at home, and as the colder months arrive, they will begin heating their houses. Residents will need the help of qualified HVAC&R trades to install, maintain and repair their systems. Again, these workers will be essential for ensuring the health and wellbeing of our population.
 
Finally, we would point to the recently released guidance on the essential critical infrastructure workforce, released by the US Department of Homeland Security. This includes “Workers to ensure continuity of building functions” as one part of the essential workforce.

We believe Australia should do the same, and clearly identify HVAC&R, building maintenance and support services as essential service providers.

Please feel free to contact AIRAH directly at airah@airah.org.au if you require any additional information or clarification.

Regards,
Tony Gleeson, M.AIRAH
AIRAH Chief Executive