As Australia begins lifting its COVID-19 lockdown, the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH) and other groups have urged caution when reopening buildings, as improperly maintained HVAC systems may contribute to outbreaks of Legionella.
The Property Council of Australia, based in Sydney, as well as the Facility Management Association (FMA), based in Victoria, have also “called on building owners and facilities managers to commence careful planning for the safe reopening of commercial buildings and workplaces,” according to HVAC&R News, AIRAH’s news website.
AIRAH notes that cooling towers left idle may harbor Legionella bacteria. It directs building managers and tradespeople to its website’s resources on proper maintenance and prevention of Legionnaire’s disease.
More generally, AIRAH described the risks of reopening buildings when ventilation systems have been shut down completely rather than run at reduced levels. In these cases, “occupants returning to the building may face health risks associated with low indoor air quality and mould.” To prevent this, AIRAH refers users to its website’s section on HVAC hygiene.
When reopening any buildings with complex HVAC systems that have been left idle, “experts should be consulted to implement the correct start-up procedures, to check control settings, and to compare the system’s operation with commissioning baseline data.”
AIRAH, The Property Council of Australia, and FMA have encouraged their members to access Safe Work Australia’s comprehensive guidance in preparation for the return to work.