ResearchHigh standards of indoor air quality: The most important thing we can do to fight COVID-19 – says BCO

British Council for Offices calls for UK offices to address poor ventilation “urgently” ahead of the return to the workplace.
Content Team3 years ago9 min

A new research paper from the British Council of Offices (BCO) Thoughts on ventilation design and operation post COVID-19, has called for UK offices to ensure they have adequate ventilation ahead of the return to work.

Poorly ventilated indoor spaces have been linked to COVID-19 super spreader events

The paper highlights that while most offices that follow good practice guidelines do benefit from good ventilation, there are also many examples of poorly ventilated offices that fall short of the best practice guidelines set out in the BCO’s 2019 Guide to Specification. Poorly ventilated indoor spaces have been linked to COVID-19 super spreader events and the paper states that ventilation in these offices must be “addressed urgently.”

Recent advice from the UK government highlights the importance of good ventilation in fighting COVID-19, citing research which shows that being in a well-ventilated space can reduce the risk of infection from airborne particles by more than 70%.

What’s more, the benefits of a well-ventilated space go beyond mitigating the pandemic, with research showing a clear link between good ventilation and improved health and wellbeing.

The paper recommends the following:

  • All occupied and transient spaces within offices should be provided with good levels of outdoor air ventilation.
  • Particular attention should be given to high occupation density spaces such as conference suites, social hubs and meeting rooms, to ensure they have an adequate outdoor air supply and exhaust air ventilation.
  • Avoiding the use of air recirculation in central ventilation plants.
  • Providing facilities management professionals with appropriate training and educational resources to help them to address indoor ventilation challenges effectively and to ensure systems are properly maintained and their performance monitored.
  • Continuous indoor air quality monitoring and the maintenance of CO2 levels below 1000 ppm.

The paper discusses the potential use of air-cleaning technology to remove viral particles from the air but urges caution in their application and emphasises that they are not a substitute for ventilation and should not be used as a reason to reduce outdoor ventilation rates.

Derek Clements-Croome, Professor Emeritus at University of Reading and lead author of the report, said:

“Ensuring a high standard of indoor air quality may be the most important thing we can do to fight COVID-19, combined with social distancing, washing our hands and wearing masks. Yet too many UK offices have inadequate ventilation. Germany is providing finance to upgrade ventilation systems in buildings and the UK Government should consider doing this too.

“The importance of good office ventilation to maintain the general health and wellbeing of occupants is well understood, but the deeper understanding we now have of how it can help reduce the risk of airborne disease transmission following the experience of COVID-19 has provided a new impetus to improve things further. Doing so will bring long term benefits. Offices that enjoy better indoor air quality conditions also tend to be occupied by happier, healthier and more productive workers.”

Neil Pennell, Head of Design Innovation and Property Solutions at Landsec and Chairman of the Technical Affairs Committee, said:

“A stronger focus on providing clean, hygienic and well-ventilated spaces are now central factors in providing safe workplaces and will be expected by employees as they return to their offices. Well-ventilated spaces are not only essential in terms of physical health benefits, there is also a clear link between good ventilation and improved mental wellbeing.”

Richard Kauntze, chief executive of the BCO, said:

“Naturally, we’re pleased that offices can reopen soon – however, we want make sure that the transition is as safe as possible. Offices should have a high standard of ventilation, not only to combat COVID-19, but also to aid the long-term wellbeing of workers.”

The paper is free to both members and non-members and can be downloaded here.

About the BCO

The British Council for Offices (BCO) is the UK’s leading member organisation representing the interests of all those who occupy, design, build, own or manage offices in the UK. Last year marked 30 years of the BCO providing thought leadership and best practice in all issues related to the creation and use of office space – through its research, awards, conference and events programmes. You can learn more about the BCO at

About the author(s)

The Technical Affairs Committee (TAC) is the voice for the BCO on technical aspects of the built environment. It is responsible for the organisation’s globally recognised best practice guides on office specification and fit-out, and acts as a forum for new ideas and discussion to address the technical challenges facing the workplace sector. This briefing note has been based on a technical paper prepared for the BCO TAC by Derek Clements-Croome, Professor Emeritus at University of Reading and Visiting Professor at Queen Mary University London. Derek is a member of the TAC and a key contributor to the 2019 BCO Guide to Specification. Derek was also one of the 239 signatories to the letter to WHO, and a contributor to the WHO report Natural Ventilation for Infection Control in Health-care Settings (2009). Other key contributors to the final paper were Neil Pennell, Chair, BCO Technical Affairs Committee; Head of Design Innovation and Property Solutions, Landsec Peter Williams, Technical Advisor to Stanhope Peter Stocks, Partner, Cundall

Content Team

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