New government guidance adds to HSE pressure to prioritise good ventilation

Following the government’s new slogan about 'Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air' the SoR and other unions are pressing NHS Trusts and Boards to do more to make sure these principles apply in the workplaces at the Covid-19 frontline.

Published: 31 March 2021 Trade Union & IR

A recent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspection found serious problems and made recommendations that Trust’s and Boards should be prioritising. In particular, the HSE’s website states that ‘The priority for your risk assessment is to identify areas of your workplace that are usually occupied and are poorly ventilated. You should prioritise those areas for improvement to reduce the risk of aerosol transmission’.

SoR National Health & Safety Officer Ian Cloke said: 'The new Government advice applies to everywhere – including and especially workplaces. Long before Covid our health & safety reps were raising concerns about poor ventilation. In old buildings this can be a real problems but its also happening in so-called hi-tech newer hospitals where many screening services are being provided in cramped, airless, windowless room.'

Ian continued: 'It’s has been a long running inconvenient truth for Trusts. Some are now acting and we’re seeing encouraging signs of progress but we are also hearing reports of others still trying to avoid their responsibilities to staff and patients. Any employer arguing the government’s advice is aimed at households needs to accept the time for excuses is over. One of the positives from Covid-19 has to be good ventilation being given the priority it deserves. After the HSE report there should be no excuse or hiding place for employers who refuse to address the problem.'

All health & safety reps are encouraged to raise the HSE report at Trust and Board wide staff consultation level to make sure the issue is a recognised priority it needs to be.

What the Health & Safety Executive says:

The HSE report makes a number of recommendations where good practice could be improved, including a particular focus on ventilation. The importance of good ventilation in the work place was clearly highlighted in the HSE’s inspections. 

Examples of good practice

  • Maxillofacial department in the outpatient’s department engaged a competent ventilation contractor to assess air changes in each treatment room. They then implemented a system to ensure those rooms with greatest number of air changes were used for AGPs as their clearance time was shorter.
  • Modifications carried out to ventilation system to increase air flow in theatres and ICU.
  • Ventilation was checked regularly including velocity, dilution and dwell times.
  • Sit wide survey of all mechanically ventilated wards and to identify any issues and rebalance the ventilation systems.
  • Management regularly communicated to their teams about the need to open windows to introduce fresh air into areas without mechanical ventilation.
  • Examples where improvement was required

Ventilation was not considered when the risk assessment was carried out

  • A room was repurposed as a rest facility but there were no windows or other means of ventilation provided.
  • In non-clinical areas rooms were identified with no forced/mechanical ventilation and the windows were secured shut and the risk assessment did not consider whether the windows could have been unsealed to allow opening for ventilation where this was a possibility.
  • In areas where AGPs were carried out the clearance time was not available.
  • Not all opportunities to open doors and windows were being taken.