On 03 March 2021, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) issued Department Order No. 224, Series of 2021, or the Guidelines on Ventilation for Workplaces and Public Transport to Prevent and Control the Spread of COVID-19 (“Guidelines“).
As part of the government’s continuing efforts and in cognizance of the poorly ventilated spaces in many workplaces, the Guidelines emphasize the immediate necessity to strictly enforce proper and adequate ventilation inside the workplace as a preventive measure against the further spread of COVID-19.
All commercial and industrial establishments, projects, sites, and all other places where work is being undertaken indoors are covered by the Guidelines. Healthcare facilities, which require special considerations in the control of COVID-19, however, are not covered.
Applicability and enforcement
The Guidelines shall take effect immediately.
1. General ventilation strategies and recommendations
Non air-conditioned spaces must comply with the following conditions provided for in the Guidelines: (a) maximize natural ventilation through the use of doors, windows, and other openings; (b) if natural ventilation is not possible, utilize fans and air-conditioning systems, which supply fresh air and extract contaminated air, as a form of mechanical ventilation; (c) carry out dilution ventilation through the use of exhaust fans; (d) keep exhaust fans continuously open; (e) increase outdoor air changes by opening windows and other openings inside the office premises; and (f) conduct weekly cleaning of windows, other openings, and ventilating fans.
Conversely, for air-conditioned spaces, covered establishments must comply with the following conditions: (a) outdoor air should conform to the recommended breathing zone ventilation rates; (b) establishments must run the ventilation system for at least 30 minutes before and after spaces are occupied; (c) likewise, establishments should ensure that enough exhaust fans relative to the room volume are available; (d) where ventilation is greatly recirculated, filters can be used to clear recirculated air; (e) employers should keep the louvers of local air conditioning units in an upward position to prevent air from flowing from one person to another; (f) concerned persons must frequently open the windows, doors, and other openings inside their office premises; and (g) they must establish a cleaning and maintenance program for mechanical systems and change filters whenever necessary.
In relation to the foregoing, the Guidelines also require the continuous operation of the local exhaust ventilation system in the workplace, especially when workers are present within the office premises, to allow for additional air exchange inside the workplace. Lastly, covered establishments should also ensure that exhaust fans inside restroom facilities are functional and operational at full capacity whenever the building is occupied.
2. Ventilation assessment
The employer shall be responsible for maintaining an acceptable and safe indoor air quality. In doing so, the safety officer or any qualified personnel shall ensure that the ventilation system is working or functioning during the conduct of the ventilation assessment in order to properly determine how air enters and exits from the workplace. The use of natural or mechanical ventilation or a combination thereof would depend on the ventilation assessment conducted by the trained safety officer or ventilation/indoor air quality specialist.
Additionally, quantitative ventilation measurements shall also be performed internally by the trained safety officer of the company, the DOLE – Occupational Safety and Health Center, or the DOLE’s accredited work environment measurement service providers.
Employers should comply with the applicable workplace ventilation requirements to ensure the health and safety of their employees. Specifically, covered establishments should maximize natural ventilation methods, utilize exhaust fans and air purifiers in the workplace, and conduct qualitative and quantitative ventilation assessments within the office premises.
Employers are advised to keep abreast of all the developments relating to COVID-19 prevention and control measures required by DOLE and its related agencies during the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis.