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Buildings as Safe Havens – a practical guide


The quality of the air we breathe, both indoors and outdoors, has been on the agenda of those delivering smart buildings, healthy buildings, and green buildings for many years. The pandemic reinforced the need for greater knowledge about the quality of the air within the buildings we construct and fit out. 

In the UK, the Engineering Services Association (BESA) has completed a trilogy of free guides designed to help building designers, owners, occupiers and facilities managers turn their buildings into ‘safe havens’ that protect occupants from health risks linked to airborne contaminants and viruses. You can learn more about these guides here: 

Buildings as Safe Havens – a practical guide’ is one of the three guides and it includes a host of tips and advice on designing for indoor air quality (IAQ), guidance on IAQ monitoring and reporting, and practical steps that facilities managers and building owners can take to ensure optimum quality air is flowing well throughout the building. In the foreword to this particular guide, one of the UK’s most respected experts on infection resilience in buildings,  Professor Cath Noakes OBE, states that “poor ventilation is the most overlooked building safety issue and can be directly linked to high levels of Covid-19 transmission”. She goes further to point out that Covid-19 has been shown to be transmitted through the air and even if only one in every 10 Covid-related deaths in the UK could be directly attributed to the failure to adequately ventilate indoor spaces, that would be more than 15,000 since the start of the pandemic. Her words are a stark ‘call to action’ to everyone in the design and construction sectors, and not just in the UK. 

In 2020, air pollution was listed as a cause of death for the first time in the UK by Southwark Coroner’s Court. This sad case related to the premature death of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah. Her mother has been campaigning for legislation to ensure an improvement to IAQ standards, based on World Health Organisation recommendations, and enhanced ventilation of indoor spaces ever since.

The new BESA guides contain a building review spreadsheet to help building managers identify areas that require improvement, designed on a traffic light system, with actions categorised as red, amber, and green. The aim is to walk the industry through the process of improving IAQ across a range of initiatives, from design and construction, right through to providing a step-by-step strategy for monitoring and maintaining optimum IAQ in public and private buildings. They also provide advice and strategies for identifying and tackling ventilation challenges.