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Ventilation requirements in a post-pandemic society: Is your school up to scratch?

Ventilation requirements in a post-pandemic society: Is your school up to scratch?

Ventilation in schools is incredibly important from both health and education perspectives. Adequate airflow not only facilitates a healthy learning environment, but it could also help improve the academic performance of children

In the UK, guidelines on school ventilation are set out in a document known as Building Bulletin 101. This document sets out the regulatory framework for ventilation in schools, with recommended performance levels that comply with UK regulations.

Current regulations state that mechanical systems which use a fan to distribute air must adhere to an average of 1,000ppm of CO2 per day. Natural ventilation systems (those without fans) should not exceed 1,500 of CO2 daily.

The implications of poor air quality

Poor quality air can cause a dry throat, an itchy/runny nose and shortness of breath. Long-term exposure to polluted air can even increase the risk of pneumonia, COPD and lung cancer. It is therefore imperative that schools have adequate ventilation to protect students and staff from potential health issues.

Ventilation and special needs schools

BB101 advises that recirculation of air in schools that educate pupils with complex health needs should be minimised. This helps to reduce the circulation of allergens and the risk of cross-infection.

For maximum protection, laundries, cleaners’ rooms, changing rooms, showers and toilets should be ventilated mechanically with extraction fans. Clean (incoming) air should be passed through an air filter.

Infection control is also a consideration in schools with special needs students. Draughts should be kept to a minimum to avoid affecting vulnerable and immobile students, although staff should also be able to control ventilation for comfort purposes.

Ultimately, ventilation systems need to be adjustable and controllable to the needs of individual students in special schools.

Improving upon current systems

Schools that currently rely on natural ventilation could benefit greatly from the installation of extractor fans, roof vents and filtration units to ensure that air is of consistently pure and high quality. In many cases, extractors and filters can be retrofitted to existing air vent/ducting spaces without too much exterior repointing or amendment.

What COVID-19 could mean for school ventilation

Airborne contaminants can be minimised (if not eliminated) with an effective extraction and filtration system – and in a post-pandemic world it’s likely that the demand for schools, offices and other public spaces to install adequate mechanical ventilation will increase.

It’s understandable that lessons will be learned in a post-Covid world – not just in schools, but by health professionals and lawmakers. To this end, we can hypothesise that new building legislation could be put in place to prevent the spread of pathogens, which could involve mandatory mechanical ventilation in public areas.