The Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH) has written to federal, state and territory ministers and called on the government to clearly identify HVAC&R, building maintenance and support as essential services.
As governments across Australia order non-essential services to shut down to stop the spread of COVID-19, AIRAH has signalled the need for HVAC&R services to continue.
CEO Tony Gleeson, M.AIRAH, says that without HVAC&R, other essential parts of our society will not be able to function.
“Key facilities, such as emergency services, healthcare and public health, information technology, communications, energy, food and agriculture, government facilities and transportation systems, are all underpinned by heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration systems,” says Gleeson. “In most cases, if the underlying HVAC&R systems fail, the facilities themselves will fail.”
Gleeson also pointed out the need to provide building maintenance to commercial premises, even if staff have temporarily vacated.
“If premises are not maintained, when they are reoccupied the essential safety and maintenance measures will not be up to date, the statutory maintenance regime will not be up to date and therefore not in compliance – and the buildings cannot be occupied,” says Gleeson.
“Obviously, when any measures to control COVID-19 are relaxed, it will be vital to return to normal operations as quickly as possible. Our facilities must be ready.”
Gleeson noted the serious issues that can arise if buildings are not maintained, particularly in water systems. These include corrosion cells and stagnant water in piping (dead legs), which can subsequently lead to further health issues such as Legionella.
“Today’s buildings,” he says, “are simply not designed to be shut down for extended periods.”
Gleeson also highlighted the need for heating in residential dwellings – especially because Australians will be spending more time than usual at home during the coming colder months.
“Residents will need the help of qualified trades to install, maintain and repair their heating systems,” says Gleeson. “Again, these workers will be essential for ensuring the health and wellbeing of our population.”
AIRAH has pointed to the US Department of Homeland Security’s recently released guidance on the essential critical infrastructure workforce. This includes “Workers to ensure continuity of building functions” as one part of the essential workforce.
“We believe Australia should do the same,” says Gleeson, “and clearly identify HVAC&R, building maintenance and support as essential services.”