Protecting Against Virus Transmission in Schools
With schools in the UK reopening, Karen Trigg, business development manager at Allegion, explains the role of touchless hardware in infection control.
When it comes to reducing the risk of infection, there can be no substitute to regular hand-washing, scrupulous hygiene and cleaning measures at touchpoints. Those are clear guidelines from respected health officials and organizations. However, there are additional safety measures that schools can introduce to help further minimise the risk of infection transmission.
The control of air flow and room ventilation, for instance, are important yet sometimes overlooked methods that can help to mitigate against infection and ensure air quality is as high as possible.
As part of its COVID-19 guidelines, the UK Government has recommended that schools open windows and doors to maintain good ventilation within their facilities. This is in addition to scientific studies that confirm the availability of sufficient fresh air leads to better levels of productivity compared to people who work in poorly ventilated spaces.
Advanced control of touchpoints is another key area that should be considered by facility managers. While only one person is likely to open a window in a classroom, hundreds – even thousands – of hands are prone to touch doors and their handles every day. Although some internal doors can be kept open to maintain air flow, it’s key to remember that strategically placed fire doors should remain closed for safety reasons. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon to see fire doors wedged open in some buildings – a practice that is illegal under UK law.
Yet, there are Certifire approved door hardware products that can be used safely throughout a school premises, not only keeping fire doors open – thus minimising touch points – but also helping to control air flow and room ventilation.
How Hardware can Aid Airflow
Opening windows and doors through mechanical means is an area that facility managers already understand well. Even more so now, as it receives more attention in the wake of new guidance, including that from HSE, which focuses on improving air quality through good ventilation.
As Professor Jonathan Van Tam, deputy chief medical officer, confirmed in April 2020 during a Government briefing: “There is a definite truism across all of the science literature that ventilation is a most critical part of reducing transmission from respiratory viruses.”
With the safe reoccupation of educational spaces a priority, what can schools do to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) and ensure their classrooms, staff rooms and dining halls have the right balance of ventilation to minimise risk to occupants?
According to CIBSE guidance, building ventilation helps to create a healthy building as outside air dilutes airborne pathogens. In fact, it is vital to increase the amount of outside air (OSA) in circulation as it can also reduce the amount of CO2, which contributes towards poor concentration and headaches. Furthermore, decision makers must also ensure that the outside air flowing into the building has been filtered, heated or cooled, as necessary, to maintain healthy conditions.
Yet, a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it is inevitable heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) maintenance will change. As we ease out of lockdown, being mindful of potential outbreaks in the coming months, school building managers will likely be expected to not only ensure that optimum HVAC systems are in place but look towards effective hardware measures.
When considering ventilation, decision makers should consider modern specialised window hardware. By using remote controlled window operations, users can open windows – even those out of reach – with a touch of a button, reducing touchpoints while further improving building ventilation.
Door safety measures
Door hardware is another area where building managers can make a quick and positive difference towards the stringent hygiene measures that school buildings must now have in place. Similar to window controls, facility managers can also automate doors with integrated solutions that provide options for fire doors too.
Electromagnetic door controls are linked to a building’s alarm system and can be kept in an open position – helping with regular air circulation – until the alarm is sounded. If this happens, they automatically release the open mechanism and firmly close the door, stopping the spread of fire and smoke.
While the doors remain in the open position, it enables free-flow of traffic and safe passage for staff and students, all while providing occupants with a touch-free environment. Ultimate safety measures are required on door controls and building managers should always check to ensure they are Certifire approved to CF738, are CE marked to EN1155 and compliant to EN1634 for fire testing on two-hour timber fire doors.
For mechanical door controls to operate effectively in hold-open, they must be paired with an electromagnetic door holder, which legally holds open fire doors during normal operations and release in the event of a fire. The units automatically deactivate to allow the closer to shut the doors.
As educational building managers look to ensure their premises are as safe as possible, it’s clear that a multi-faceted approach is necessary.
Introducing safe hardware control measures is an additional, yet simple, way to maintain ventilation and healthy air flow standards throughout a school building – all while adhering to UK fire and safety laws.