UCU Response to the Ventilation Report (23 September 2021)

UCU has been urging a full audit of all shared spaces for several months now. After many delays, and after teaching has started in many parts of the University, UCU has now seen the full ventilation report. UCU and GMB are disappointed by the late arrival and poor quality of the report, which we believe does little to enhance the knowledge of the risks being posed to staff and students with face to face teaching.

We consider the report to be poorly written and missing vital information, including a methodology and evidence. Without these, the report’s conclusions about the state of ventilation at Roehampton are speculative at best and UCU believe do not provide the evidence to support management’s claim that the campus is currently Covid Secure.

We cannot therefore assure you that the campus is adequately ventilated.  This is concerning, as good ventilation is one of the main mitigations that can be put in place to reduce transmission of an airborne virus.

The report – and the survey on which it was based – have a number of weaknesses including:

  • It does not cover the whole University. Even though it purports to cover all teaching rooms, several have been missed out.  There is no comment on the library, shared offices or other commonly-used and busy spaces
  • The surveyors cannot have checked rooms. In one instance at least, the report argues that ventilation (through opening windows) is more than adequate but it turns out that the windows do not open.  How many more examples are there of this?
  • Not all rooms have been assessed as they are commonly used: divided or opened out, with or without curtains etc.
  • The report appears to assume that all windows will be fully open throughout the day even though it acknowledges that this is unlikely in winter (we would add autumn and spring here). It also assumes that stale air can be pushed out easily.
  • There are a number of recommendations without any clear view of how they will be carried out. One example is that windows should be opened before the beginning of teaching: how long before, by whom and how this will be verified are all left unclear.
  • Some of the stated ventilation rates are improbable, including rooms that apparently enjoy ventilation that means a volume of fresh air equal to the entire volume of the room entering every 4-5 seconds! This would equate to a howling gale in your classroom.
  • Despite including this in its title, there are no recommendations for occupancy rates for rooms. SAGE recommends maintaining 2m distancing which would imply much reduced occupancy rates.
  • Recommendations are not clear and are buried in the report itself, sometimes only by implication

Nonetheless, the report does recommend:

  • CO2 monitors in all rooms to check air quality. CO2 monitors are a proxy measure to assess whether the ventilation rate is sufficient to keep staff safe.
  • Mechanical fans in all rooms except those that are most poorly-ventilated to ensure circulation of fresh air. UCU believes that rooms where there is not enough fresh air should not be in use.
  • Mechanical ventilation systems should be checked to ensure that the stated ventilation rates are actually achieved. UCU believed that this would be part of the survey and are disappointed that it wasn’t initially considered essential to accurately assess the actual ventilation rates.
  • Opening windows before teaching starts, leaving them open during breaks in teaching and after teaching ends to ‘purge’ them

Management has agreed to take three rooms out of use until ventilation can be improved but insist that the others will be safe.  They have also agreed to buy 100 CO2 monitors (possibly around a third or less of the number needed) for some rooms. They then need to purchase them, install them, and instruct staff and students how to use them and what to do if the alarm goes off, etc.

Management has also agreed to check mechanical ventilation systems and will start on that this week.  UCU are dismayed that this work was not undertaken over the summer, but instead has been left to the last days before the start of the academic year.

Management has also agreed to discuss an improved communication strategy to inform staff of how to maintain good ventilation and to set up a system for reporting problems.  UCU has concerns that this will place additional responsibilities on overworked staff and may encourage unsafe working (e.g. climbing on furniture in order to open windows).  We do not believe this is appropriate.  We are also unclear whether there will be a commitment to rectify problems quickly.

However, there has been no communication with either staff or students as to what they need to do to remain safe (i.e. How long should windows be opened before using a particular room? Who is responsible for opening them? How to report a Covid safety hazard and when it will be attended to).

Management has not yet agreed to alterations to ensure windows stay open where they are necessary to maintain adequate ventilation; to further reduce occupancy in rooms to allow for distancing; to strengthen policy on mask-wearing; to provide HEPA filters where necessary to enhance air quality or to extend the audit to cover other learning spaces (i.e. the library), communal offices, and social spaces (i.ee canteens, bars). Yet presumably Senior Management are expecting staff and students to use all spaces.

Members will understand that we do not feel able to inform them that ventilation across the campus will be adequate.