COVID-19 Safety in the Workplace: NEW Ontario HVAC Guidelines Just Released!

June 1st Web

Slowly but surely, we are taking steps in Ontario to open our doors for business again. While many workers and employers are still working remotely, this is less possible in some industries.

Employers who own and manage multi-unit business or residential spaces might just have the toughest job of all with finding that fine line between maintaining safety and tending to the needs of their residents/customers.

Just this past week, the province of Ontario released comprehensive commercial and workplace safety guidelines for six major business sectors and 29 specific industries.

Ontario’s Ministry of Labour is also sending 58 new health and safety inspectors out into the field to provide guidance and audit employers for compliance.

How can you protect your workers, your residents and your business as the COVID-19 pandemic continues? We outline the essential information that you need to know in this post. 

3 Steps to Comply With Ontario’s Business Operation Guidelines

1. Maintain social distancing

The following guideline targets all forms of social distancing – from payment to foot traffic.

  • Contactless payment options.
  • Shift time staggering.
  • Alternate meeting arrangements (outdoors, virtual).
  • Traffic flow management with appropriate markers and monitoring.

2. Address extra PPE, HVAC and ventilation needs

The following guideline focuses on increasing influx of fresh air and managing airflow for safety.

  • Installation of plexiglass barriers at points of staff/customer contact (ie. payment stations, help desk).
  • Sanitizing trays for work boots.
  • Giving workers access to plentiful hand sanitizer and PPE.
  • Providing for proper disposal of sanitizing wipes and disposable PPE.
  • Making hand washing, use of sanitizer and PPE a workplace requirement.
  • Improving HVAC systems for enhanced ventilation and air flow.
  • Upgraded cleaning measures, such as vacuuming instead of dry dusting.
  • Closing off or restricting access and/or managing traffic to/from shared use spaces as is appropriate (ie. meeting and conference rooms, break rooms, elevators, entry ways, restrooms, laundry rooms).

3. Maintain reporting and compliance.

This guideline emphasizes the importance of promptly reporting and documenting all suspected or confirmed workplace cases of COVID-19, sharing information and education to foster personal and workplace protection and safety and staying current on Ministry of Labour guidelines and requirements.

The province of Ontario has stated that additional safety guidelines will be released as new information becomes available.

2 Keys to Adapt Your Workplace HVAC for COVID-19 Compliance

Sometimes it can be hard to believe it has only been a handful of months since the new novel coronavirus was detected and began to spread. So much has changed in terms of how we live and work, and there are many more changes yet to come.

Many of the new safety guidelines stem from breaking research news regarding how COVID-19 spreads.

For example, in the earliest days of the pandemic, experts believed transmission only occurred through close personal contact. Hence the rise of “social distancing.”

Now, newer research indicates it is highly likely COVID-19 droplets can also spread via HVAC systems, using air currents and air ducts as transportation vehicles.

Specifically, the CDC recently released a whitepaper in their journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases that introduced evidence concluding that COVID-19 could spread through air ducts.

In this area, regardless of your industry or sector, the Ministry of Labour guidance regarding HVAC, airflow and ventilation is very clear on two points:

1. Airflow must be altered to minimize exposure to coronavirus.

This first guideline looks at redirecting airflow patterns with PPE, plexiglass shields and appropriate social distancing to minimize transmission.

2. Increased airflow must be implemented to maximize ventilation.

This second guideline focuses on increasing ventilation and airflow in order to diffuse coronavirus droplets more quickly, thus reducing the risk of aerosol (airborne) transmission.

5 HVAC Maintenance Tips to Reduce Coronavirus Transmission Risk

The National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health (NCCEH) recently released its own set of guidelines for HVAC cleaning, maintenance and protection in multi-use residential buildings.

In this exhaustive document, the NCCEH looked at five potentially known transmission methods for the new novel coronavirus:

  • Direct contact (infected person)
  • Indirect contact (contaminated surface)
  • Larger respiratory droplets (local transmission of up to 2m)
  • Smaller respiratory droplets (aerosol transmission to much greater distances)
  • Fecal transmission (ingestion, aerosol inhalation)

The NCCEH released its own guidelines for HVAC maintenance and cleaning to protect building staff and residents.

1. Maintain or increase mechanical ventilation.

Now is not the time to prioritize energy savings over personal health. Increasing ventilation can help to diffuse infectious droplets more rapidly by increasing the concentration of fresh, safe air.

Proper and timely HVAC maintenance can aid in maximizing ventilation and individual safety. If your HVAC needs servicing, contact Shipton’s and we will organize the maintenance for you!

2. Maintain pressurization in public areas.

Public areas can become hotbeds of infection if proper pressurization is not maintained between private units (ie. apartments, offices) and public spaces (ie. corridors, elevators, laundry rooms).

3. Keep HVAC filters clean.

HVAC filters must be kept clean to safeguard against pressurization imbalances and reduced air flow.

Any filter upgrades should only be done after consulting an HVAC industry professional, as many residential and even some commercial HVAC systems are not designed to accommodate the density of HEPA-grade filtration.

4. Encourage natural ventilation.

An action as simple as opening a window can increase ventilation and air flow to maximize diffusion of infectious droplets and improve safety measures.

Use of floor fans, ceiling fans and opening windows or doors should all be encouraged.

5. Seek guidance from HVAC industry professionals.

Increasing air flow and ventilation must be done carefully and strategically to avoid increasing risk. Consulting an HVAC industry professional is highly recommended before making any modifications.

Get in Touch

HVAC, electrical and plumbing have all been deemed essential services during the stay at home order here in the province of Ontario. If you are concerned with the quality of your air, whether that be residential or commercial air quality, Shipton’s Heating and Cooling can help. We service Hamilton, Ontario as well as the surrounding areas (including Ancaster, Burlington, Oakville etc.) We also continue to offer our services 24/7 – taking extra precautions and safety measures to ensure the safety of both you and our team. Click Here to watch a brief video explaining our COVID-19 safety procedures. 

Give us a call at 1-905-549-4616 or visit us online if we can be of service to you during this difficult time.

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