• Pic credit: Victoria University
    Pic credit: Victoria University

Australia’s HVACR industry has created a new resource to improve ventilation in schools and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The guide, which was created by the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH),  will be made freely available to schools throughout Australia.

AIRAH CEO, Tony Gleeson, said ventilation in some Australian classrooms is substandard, leading to poor air quality.“

This not only affects students’ ability to concentrate, but also leads to greater transmission of airborne diseases such as COVID-19,” he said.

With community transmission still high in some parts of Australia, schools are emerging as a setting of concern. The Victorian Department of Health’s latest data shows that about 75 per cent of COVID-19 clusters have occurred at schools and early-childhood education centres.

“AIRAH wants schools to have information that will help ensure their learning spaces are well ventilated, which is why we are making these resources freely available. Following this guidance will help give children a safe and healthy environment where they can receive the education they deserve,” Gleeson said.

Authored by Brad Prezant, and reviewed by experts in ventilation and indoor air quality, the guide provides a better understanding of airborne transmission and building ventilation systems found in Australian schools. It also provides advice about building a strategy for different facilities.

Prezant is a certified occupational hygienist, public health scientist and epidemiology expert who has 35 years’ experience assessing indoor environments. Since the beginning of the pandemic, he has been working with schools to assess and improve their ventilation strategies – and has seen first-hand the challenges they face.

“School administrators and teachers are concerned about the safety of children and staff,” Prezant said.

“At the same time, they are being bombarded by vendors selling a myriad of products, some of which may improve the health of occupants, and some of which may increase the risk of infection. Many of the solutions offered are expensive. “

Earlier this year a team from the UNSW Sydney's School of Built Environment released research showing that Australian students are learning in classrooms with poor indoor air quality which exceed safety guidelines.

Researchers found concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO₂) in classrooms peaked significantly higher than the 850-ppm threshold prescribed by the National Construction Code (NCC) due to a lack of proper ventilation.

The study also showed that low ventilation rates raise the concentration of other contaminants in a classroom environment, such as emissions from the building materials and furniture and particulate matter from indoor/outdoor sources.

Poor indoor air quality and high indoor air temperatures in classrooms are critical problems worldwide. This is only worsened when ventilation rates are insufficient to remove excessive heat or pollutants.

The guide is available free at www.airah.org.au