UK cooling sector having to define ‘essential work’ for Covid-19 response

Cooling engineers are having to decide on what type of work they consider vital to UK infrastructure as the nation faces up to calls for strict self-isolation to combat the coronavirus outbreak

Cooling engineers are having to decide on what type of work they consider vital to UK infrastructure as the nation faces up to calls for strict self-isolation to combat the coronavirus outbreak

The HVACR sector is presently having to self-define the projects and work that will be vital to supporting critical UK infrastructure as the country aims to curb social interaction to limit the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Some cooling engineers have said they have taken a decision since late last week to only attend ‘emergency’ projects – such as work applying to protecting UK food supply and healthcare provision. However, one engineering group said the decision was not based on guidelines from authorities, but the company’s own internal expertise.

Gregory Pelling, director of Peterborough-based Miramar Engineering, said his organisation had decided to provide only emergency work since 20 March to ensure sufficient numbers of the group’s staff can maintain critical cooling systems at a time when they may be under increased operational pressure.

He said that determining what projects should be classified as an emergency priority had proved tricky and was likely complicating any efforts to provide clearer guidance to the UK cooling sector on prioritising work.

Mr Pelling said that projects that could be classed as an emergency were then prioritised on how critical they may be to vital UK infrastructure such as food production, power generation, or the medical sector.

Industry body BESA has also confirmed it had also received no guidance from government at present on where heating or cooling projects should be prioritised or limited to try and limit social interaction and potential contamination from site workers.

David Frise, chief executive of the industry body, said that the task now fell to industry itself to collectively decide where and how work should be limited to protect the safety of staff and ensure that emergency work on vital building functions can be provided.

He said, “We would see work in hospitals, schools and the food supply chain and other public services such as care homes as priorities.”

Mr Frise said BESA was presently looking for industry feedback to better identify critical types of work that may be needed to keep key public sector buildings and homes safe and with functioning vital services without compromising public health and safety.

The claims were made during a free-to-watch webinar provided by BESA that served as the first in a series of updates looking at the major and emerging impacts on the industry from the restrictions placed on society by the government to tackle Covid-19.

Among the guidance provided was the warning that presently the responsibility of individual companies to decide on where they feel it is safe to perform work such as ventilation cleaning, potentially in the case of a site that has experienced an outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.

Debbie Petford, legal and commercial director for BESA, has said that it would be down to companies to undertake risk assessment work over their capability to continue to offer services and limit potential infection to staff.

Treasury support

BESA said in the webinar that there was a also number of points of clarification still needed from authorities around a major financial support package announced late last week by Chancellor Rishi Sunak. This includes an unprecedented commitment to provide 80 percent of monthly wages of UK staff furloughed due to the impacts of Covid-19 across all industry sectors.

The job retention scheme financing, which will be backdated to 1 March, is intended to support individuals unable to work at home and able to provide services due to restrictions introduced by the government to try and limit the pandemic.

These funds will apply for furloughed workers for monthly wages of up to £2,500 for an initial three-month period, with an option to extend further. The chancellor announced the scheme alongside a decision to defer VAT and Income Tax for three months.

BESA said it hoped the government would clarify a number of issues around the financial support measures, notably on how long a wait there would be to receive payment under the employee retention fund, with upfront costs having to be covered by the employer. The organization said it hoped for more detail whether it would be mandatory for the remaining 20 percent of wages owed to an employee to be covered by the employers themselves.

Guidance is expected to be set out in the coming days and weeks amidst initial uncertainty over the exact detail of the support measures government was introducing to support drastic societal changes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  These measures following similar steps intended to introduce mass self-isolation by governments across Europe and the rest of the world.


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