Should COVID-19 make businesses rethink air conditioning?

There are all sorts of rumours going around about COVID-19 and how it can put people at risk. Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has been devastating and businesses around the world are suffering. But this has led to some companies believing certain things about the virus that may not be true.

A good example of this is the idea that many businesses are avoiding the use of air conditioning because they believe it will spread the virus. Here we take a look at whether this is the case, and what businesses should be doing regarding their air conditioning systems. 

Can air conditioning spread COVID-19?

It is important to first note that the accepted science surrounding COVID-19 changes all the time. Our understanding of this condition is not yet full and it is likely that specific opinion and suggestions may change as time goes on. However, based on the most recent guidelines, the answer to this question is that in some cases air conditioning could increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Specifically, where buildings utilise air conditioning systems that recycle and recirculate air there is a risk of spreading coronavirus, unless they are used in conjunction with open windows. A complicating factor is that many air conditioning systems recommend that they should be used with windows closed.

So, ultimately, the answer here is is that it is possible, however that is not the thing to focus on, as there are other factors. 

A very low risk

A vital point here is that current government advice suggests that the major factor involved in this debate is that employers must ensure that there is a supply of fresh air for workers – and this has not changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also stated that good ventilation is actually a major key in reducing the spread of coronavirus. 

Crucially, the government describes the risk of air conditioning spreading COVID-19 in the workplace as extremely low as long as there is an adequate supply of fresh air and ventilation. Businesses are advised that in most situations it is fine to continue using air conditioning as normal. 

It is simply recommended that any air conditioning system that uses recirculated air should either not be used, or changed to a different setting that does not use recirculated air. 

Avoid recirculation

According to air conditioning and facilities specialists BSE FM, the current advice is to increase the supply of outside air as far is practicable. It is also recommended that recirculation within ventilation systems should also be avoided. This is because COVID-19 particles can exist in the air for up to three hours and do have the potential to be moved around.

The risk increases when there is limited fresh air coming into the building. And while recirculation systems might well be useful and efficient from the perspective of cooling or heating the air, the do present an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission. 

If you want to use an air conditioning system you should absolutely ensure that there is a good level of ventilation. This can mitigate the risk, allowing you to utilise air conditioning in your premises without fear.

Should businesses avoid installing air conditioning?

The popularity of air conditioning has been growing in recent years. This has especially been the case with temperatures and weather fluctuations becoming the norm and heatwaves becoming more common. But given that COVID-19 has created some uncertainties around the safety of air conditioning, is this something that business might need to reconsider? 

Well, as we have examined, the risk of air conditioning spreading COVID-19 is actually very low when the air conditioning system is used the right way. It is also important to balance the potential risk of air conditioning alongside the benefits that can be gained for a business by having a system installed. 

Final thoughts

Of course, one of the major things to note is that air conditioning can bring a large number of benefits to an office. Perhaps the most relevant to businesses is the idea that it can keep staff happier by allowing them a more pleasant working environment and temperature. This in turn can create conditions that are favourable for better productivity. 

Everything with COVID-19 necessities businesses to balance risk and reward. As current guidelines suggestion that is it not risky to have air conditioning in place, there is no reason to think that having this sort of system installated, or making use of a current system, should be avoided.

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