Wednesday, 1 December 2021
Workplace Ventilation (Covid-19) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]
I am glad to have this opportunity to speak on this Bill. There is no doubt that workplace ventilation is of huge importance to all at this time. Every effort must be made to safeguard those working in largely populated workplaces. In my view, the Government has been reactive rather than proactive on so many fronts in regard to this pandemic. It should for once seek to be one step ahead, the proof of which would be the installation of ventilation systems in our schools, which is not addressed in this Bill. Our classrooms are overcrowded. Many of these classrooms are in prefabs and others are in very old rooms. It is well known that our pupil-teacher ratio is the highest in Europe. In classrooms the length and breadth of this country there are windows open daily and, thus, very young children are perished with the cold. This is preventible.
My Rural Independent Group colleague, Deputy O'Donoghue, was the first to speak in the Dáil early last year about a system of proper ventilation that could be cheaply fitted into every classroom in the country. That was ignored while at the same time tens of millions of euros were blown on a health budget with very little accountability. I said earlier that I welcomed the opportunity to contribute to this debate. However, I do not see any mention in this Bill of who will pay for the increased cost of fitting these air filtration devices. The State must take some responsibility for this. The importance of these ventilation systems cannot be ignored. I listened to the interview with the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, on RTÉ's "Today with Claire Byrne" on Monday morning. It is clear that neither he nor the HSE has bothered to read any of these studies. The Minister said that the advice from the HSE advisory group was that ventilation filters would not work in our schools, based on research done by the HSE. I do not know if the Minister and the HSE have really studied this. A recent study by Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge found that there are benefits from air purification in preventing airborne spread of SARS-CoV-2. This has been studied for some time now in education and medical settings with positive results. The most recent study in Addenbrooke's Hospital generated first-class data which demonstrated the efficiency of air purification in reducing the spread of Covid within indoor environments. The study is also really interesting as it aimed to determine how air purifiers stand up to real world conditions.
Dr. Vilas Navapurkar, who is an ICU physician at the hospital in Cambridge, installed air purification devices in two fully occupied Covid-19 wards, a general ward and an ICU ward. The team then chose HEPA filters which drew air through a fine mesh to capture extremely small particles known as aerosols. Air samples were collected from the wards during the weeks when the air filters were switched on and two weeks when they were turned off.
The Minister is taking advice from the HSE, which I would like to see. Will he publish that and make it public at this stage?