Ventilation in the Workplace
Resilience Health Team
Dec 2nd, 2020
While scientists are still working to understand the role and mechanisms of airborne transmission of COVID-19, it is largely agreed that insufficient ventilation increases the risk of transmission. Yet ventilation is largely absent from the guidance provided by federal, state, and local governments for how businesses can open up in ways that are as safe as possible for their employees, customers, and communities.
COVID-19 is an airborne disease, and the majority of the guidance for employers on how to reopen is aimed at reducing this airborne transmission, from making masks and social distancing mandatory to limiting elevator occupancy in office buildings. Resilience Health has found it notable, however, that most authorities we reviewed for our Legal Regulatory Aggregator have provided no or very limited guidance one way to reduce airborne transmission: improving air flow and quality in their spaces.
The lack of guidance on ventilation might be because scientists and experts are continuing to understand the precise ways that complex air circulation systems facilitate the spread of this specific virus in buildings, and governments might be hesitant to provide guidance in an area where scientists continue to research, especially when some of the resulting guidance could implicate complicated, expensive, or individualized assessments of buildings.
Nonetheless, given the existing consensus among scientists and our experts that better ventilation reduces the risk of transmission of airborne diseases, leaders should encourage at a minimum the uncomplicated and inexpensive ways that experts agree can increase air flow and likely reduce risks, such as opening windows and propping doors. Promoting measures such as these is especially important while the weather still allows this to be a possibility in many parts of the country.
Employers are looking to federal, state and local guidance for steps to take to keep employees safe. When some guidance is at a very granular level (such as putting stickers on the floor to encourage the maintenance of a distance of 6 feet between employees) while other guidance is absent or very undetailed (such as how to improve air flow), leaders are sending a message to employers about the relative importance or reliability of these measures. This relative importance does not map onto existing advice scientists and experts are giving, however, about the role that improved ventilation can play in reducing transmission.