Coronavirus: Ventilation in the workplace

News article

Recommendations for improving ventilation in your business premises to help reduce the concentration and spread of COVID-19

Good ventilation is widely recognised as a way to reduce the risk of airborne transmission of coronavirus, particularly in enclosed areas. As businesses and workplaces reopen it is important to use your COVID-19 risk assessment to reduce the risk to staff and customers by ensuring adequate ventilation.

You should look at ways to improve how your ventilation system operates, and ways to increase the supply of fresh air where you work.

What is the risk?

Tiny airborne particles can remain in the air for longer and can travel further than droplets. In poorly ventilated spaces airborne particles can remain in the air for hours and can lead to viral particles spreading between people.

Face coverings alone may not adequately reduce the risk of airborne transmission and should not be used as a replacement for good ventilation, which limits the concentration of the virus.

Workplace ventilation measures

Good ventilation can mean different things in different areas of your premises, depending on:

  • how many people are present
  • how space is being used
  • the particular layout of the area

Therefore, you will need to consider the particular ventilation requirements in the areas you are considering.

Steps to improve ventilation in your premises might include:

  • keeping doors and windows open, if possible
  • running your ventilation system longer and/or at a higher speed
  • increasing the frequency of filter changes
  • servicing your existing ventilation systems

It is important that fresh air is drawn into your ventilation system, otherwise, you risk just recirculating stagnant air from one space to another.

Mobile and home-based ventilation measures

Close contact providers who operate on a mobile basis, including working in other peoples’ homes, may wish to ask clients to prepare their premises in advance of appointments. You should consider and discuss the best ways in which to work safely for both yourself and your clients.

Steps to improve ventilation in your clients' premises include:

  • opening doors and windows
  • keeping trickle vents open (usually found at the top of window frames) and ensuring vents are not blocked
  • regular airing of a room for short periods, eg 10 minutes per hour can be effective at reducing concentrations of virus in the air
  • leaving extractor fans running in bathrooms and kitchens with the door closed

Ventilation in vehicles

Enclosed vehicles including cars, vans, and buses can also be high-risk for spreading coronavirus. It is important that vehicles used by your business are well ventilated to help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.

When operating or travelling in vehicles:

  • switch ventilation systems on while people are in the vehicle – set to drawing fresh air in, not recirculating air
  • to improve ventilation, windows can also be opened (partially if it’s cold) – heating can be left on to keep the vehicle warm
  • for vehicles that carry different passengers, such as taxis, clear the air between different passengers or at the journey end so the vehicle is aired before anyone else gets in
  • opening doors where it is safe to do so will help to change the air quickly – opening windows fully can also help to clear the air in the vehicle

Further guidance on safer transport for operators is available. The Health and Safety Executive also has advice on ventilation in vehicles.

More information

The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) has detailed guidance on ventilation and COVID-19.

Public Health England also has detailed guidance on the ventilation of indoor spaces to stop the spread of coronavirus.

It is also important to remember that other coronavirus control measures must be maintained, including:

  • social distancing
  • hand hygiene
  • cleaning
  • wearing face coverings or relevant PPE
  • limiting social interactions  

You can contact your trade organisation guidance for sector-specific advice.

For additional guidance and practical steps on how local employers and employees can keep themselves and their workplaces safe, see:

First published: 18 May 2021