Report was commissioned by government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance

Buildings must be better ventilated to reduce the risk of covid-19 and other infections, according to a report commissioned by the government’s chief scientific adviser.

Sir Patrick Vallance asked the Royal Academy of Engineering and the National Engineering Policy Centre to look into the importance of ventilation in the wake of the pandemic.

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The report said drawing up proper ventilation in new buildings  has to be at the forefront of their design

Today’s report says ventilation is too often neglected and the covid crisis has revealed flaws in the way buildings are designed, managed and operated.

It added that consistent communication and advice on ventilation from government and professional bodies is needed to help building owners and operators to manage infection risks.

And it said that ventilation has to be prioritised alongside more visible measures such as surface cleaning and distancing.

Professor Peter Guthrie, vice president of the Royal Academy of Engineering and Chair of the NEPC infection resilient environments working group, said: “Buildings make an enormous difference to people’s health and we have often neglected this in the past, which is bad news in a pandemic, because they are one of the most significant levers that we have to control infection.”

He added: “Longer term, this is a real opportunity to transform the way we design and manage our buildings to create good, healthy and sustainable environments for those who use them. We must also integrate this with thinking on infection control into our approach to Net Zero, to prevent inadvertently hard-wiring a susceptibility to infection and other health risks into our building stock and management practices.”

The report also said the industry needed to do more on training, reskilling and recruitment to plug skills and knowledge gaps, while it added that investment in research and development is needed to clarify issues such as acceptable minimum standards for ventilation to support regulation by local authorities and others.

Catherine Noakes, a professor of Environmental Engineering for Buildings at the University of Leeds, and who also sits on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, told the BBC this morning the pandemic should be used as a catalyst to rethink how buildings are designed in the future.

She said: “I think that we should think about the longer-term benefits because this is not just about managing disease, this is about managing health.

“We know good ventilation tackles many respiratory viruses and there’s been evidence for over 30 years but actually good ventilation can manage many of these issues and I think something we really need to think about going forward [is] that instead of just focusing on buildings [and] energy consumption, we need to integrate health into those designs and how we operate buildings.”

The report’s recommendations include:

Government should urgently map the knowledge and skills requirements across the building industry, general businesses, and the engineering professions and put in place plans to address the skills gaps identified

Government should undertake a rapid review of the capacity and capability requirements among regulators (including local authorities) to support and enforce standards in maintaining buildings for public health

Working with the National Core Studies Programme, UKRI and the National Academies, government should put in place an action plan to address key research gaps on an accelerated basis

Research and demonstration projects should be commissioned to fill key knowledge gaps such as the acceptable minimum standards for ventilation to manage infection risk and to underwrite regulation and enforcement

Action to meet Net Zero must be developed in a way which is consistent with priorities around indoor air quality and making buildings resilient to infection