Use of fans and air-conditioning units

06 Jul 2020

Despite scientific evidence about the risk of transmission of Covid-19 through airborne particles, DWP management have unilaterally changed their advice on the use of fans. There was no consultation with PCS about this change.

PCS has written to the Health and Safety Executive on 29 June asking how they have arrived at their conclusion that air conditioning and desk fans pose ‘an extremely low risk’ and to provide us with their evidence.  

Based on scientific studies of the virus compiled by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth we issued guidance to reps outlining these risks and advising the use of air conditioning and desk fans to factored into risk assessments. The Federation of European heating, ventilation and air conditioning association (REHVA), representing over 120,000 HVAC designers, building services engineers, technicians and experts across 27 European countries, backs up our concerns and advises employers to implement and number of measures to make ventilation systems covid secure.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency warns more must be done to improve ventilation to reduce corona risk. A report from China show infections among bus passengers in Hunan Province suggests air conditioning can play a role in helping the virus to travel up to 4.5 metres.  

Researchers found a substantial probability that normal speaking causes airborne virus transmission in confined environments (Stadnytsky et al 2020) Given the nature of the work in the DWP where large numbers of our members are spending a great deal of time talking to the public or other colleagues on the phone then we need to take the airborne transmission of the virus very seriously.  PCS negotiators are keen that control measures are taken to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 in our workplaces to the lowest possible level.  This includes continuing to avoid using desk fans and air-conditioning systems which do not exchange the air with fresh air and ensuring that 2m social distancing is operating at all times.

We have requested that DWP management revert to their original position agreed with the unions that we should avoid the risk posed by desk fans and air conditioning systems which do not exchange the air by continuing to stop their use. We need to avoid anything that can potentially increase the risk in our workplaces with airborne virus transmission as one of the factors in this.  We still have not had a response from the HSE to revisit their change in advice and no evidence to corroborate this.

We continue to advise our members to refrain from using desk fans and air conditioning systems which do not exchange the air to reduce the risk in coronavirus spreading through our workplaces.

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