January 26, 2022

Returning to the workplace post-Covid: how we gave safety a green boost

In a recent article, we asked the question “are sick buildings harming our health?”, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest they are – through, amongst other issues, humidity, poor thermal control, and toxins contained in building materials.

But Covid, of course, has only added to the hidden hazards – and in a much more urgent way. So, how can we best deal with this specific part of the “sick building” problem – particularly as the Government’s reversion to Plan A will see people returning to offices and workplaces up and down the UK imminently?

At Green Building Design, here’s how we’ve done it – and it’s an approach that combines effectiveness with energy efficiency, for a clinically credible yet environmentally friendly outcome that in fact goes way beyond protecting against Covid alone.

Covid conventions: why they’re not enough

To start with, it’s important to understand that the usual anti-Covid measures that offices and workplaces (including ours) have put in place are certainly necessary and effective, but of themselves they are not decisive.

This is for three reasons. Firstly, methods like social distancing and mask-wearing focus on not spreading the disease, rather than eliminating it. This makes them a contingency (albeit a critical one) rather than a solution.

Secondly, methods like hand-sanitisation, whilst they do actually destroy the virus, rather than simply frustrate its transmission, aren’t effective unless and until the virus has actually come into contact with the hand or hands concerned. They’re the equivalent of waiting until the enemy are in your trench before you open fire.

And thirdly – and this is particularly relevant to the notion of sick buildings – taking measures that target just one pathogen is arguably hugely inadequate, when buildings are often riddled with many others that present health risks.

(To put this in perspective, studies have shown that there are trillions of microbes living inside buildings. In fact, the average person sheds approximately 37 million microbes per hour into the surrounding air and onto surfaces – and Covid is only one potential payload.)

In short, we saw that we needed to up our anti-virus game – and the answer came in two words: air sterilisation.

So how do you sterilise air?

Realising that the key to killing Covid and many other birds with one stone was principally to annihilate the pathogens before they reached a convenient surface or an obliging host, we invested in air sterilisation units that suck in Covid and other nasties from the air and then destroy them using ultra-violet light.

They are said to “scrub” the air clean, which is, in essence, exactly what they do.

One unit can constantly clean enough air for five to six office or workplace occupants, so with multiple units you can deal with the threat of Covid in even very large workplace environments, benefiting occupants and visitors alike.

This approach enables other Covid measures to operate in the context in which they are most effective – as additional protection should the primary protection afforded by air sterilisation not be 100% effective 100% of the time (which, of course, is realistically the case with most processes).

The units are also quiet and safe to use in close proximity to people, so they are entirely in keeping with the standards of wellbeing we insist on in our office.

Cleaner but also greener: a bonus point

Of course, as a building design consultancy focused on sustainable construction practices, we were keen to understand how the air sterilisation units performed in the context of energy efficiency and resource consumption – and an encouraging picture emerged.

Perhaps surprisingly, they run at something under 350 watts, which is in the lower power range for a business-grade appliance.

Additionally, they require no filters or other regularly replaced elements (unlike, say, a conventional air purifier, which, in any case, cannot kill airborne pathogens), so there is no resource-hungry, after-market consumable manufacture associated with their use.

And lastly, because they get rid of the need to open windows (there’s no sense in sterilising fresh air from outside, after all) they also, by implication, make it unnecessary to turn up the heating to prevent everybody from freezing to death.

Consequently, they actually support lower energy consumption in the anti-Covid scenario.

Covid-secure: a requirement for a “well” building

Increasingly, the talk in Government is of Covid ultimately becoming something we all have to live with long-term, yet also being something we are perfectly capable of minimising and controlling, if not eradicating completely.

And that, in essence, is no different from the many other issues that plague sick buildings. No office on this earth can be entirely pathogen-free, but creating an environment in which germs are both killed in new and innovative ways, and have their life made difficult whilst they’re still alive, is surely key to getting as close to an entirely “well” building as is humanly possible.

And when it comes to workplaces, it is, when all’s said and done, all about the humans.

To find out more about how we can help with greener designs that make for healthier buildings, call us on 01992 552111.

Continue reading

Sign up for news

Register to receive a copy of our newsletter
  • Industry news and issues
  • Upcoming projects
  • Design and construction team news