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Breathe easy

Greg Davies, Director of Market Development at Assurity Consulting, an organisation with over 30 years’ experience in independently monitoring indoor air quality looks at some of the issues surrounding IAQ

“Each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution, with more linked also to exposure to indoor pollutants.”

“Air pollution plays a role in many of the major health challenges of our day, and has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes linked to dementia.”

“The health problems resulting from exposure to air pollution also have a high cost to society and business…In the UK, these costs add up to more than £20 billion every year.”

“Air pollution plays a key role in the process of climate change, which places our food, air and water supplies at risk, and poses a major threat to our health.”

These are just some of the issues raised in a 2016 report “Every breath we take – The lifelong impact of air pollution” released by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH). The RCP further commented “the report also highlights the often-overlooked section of our environment – that of indoor space.”

So, what are the issues for FM?

THE REGULATORY TRACK
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, cover several areas of the workplace environment including, lighting (Regulation 8), cleanliness (Regulation 9), temperature (Regulation 7) and ventilation (Regulation 6), the latter stating:

“6.- (1) Effective and suitable provision shall be made to ensure that every enclosed workplace is ventilated by a sufficient quantity of fresh or purified air.”

L24 the Approved Code of Practice associated with the Regulations highlights:

  • 28 – Enclosed workplaces should be sufficiently well ventilated so that stale air, and air which is hot or humid because of the processes or equipment in the workplace, is replaced at a reasonable rate.
  • 29 – The air which is introduced should, as far as possible, be free of any impurity which is likely to be offensive or cause ill health.
  • 30 – In many cases, windows or other openings will provide sufficient ventilation in some or all parts of the workplace. Where necessary, mechanical ventilation systems should be provided for parts or all of the workplace, as appropriate.
  • 32 – In the case of mechanical ventilation systems which recirculate air, including air conditioning systems, recirculated air should be adequately filtered to remove impurities. To avoid air becoming unhealthy, purified air should have some fresh air added to it before being recirculated.
  • 33 – Mechanical ventilation systems (including air-conditioning systems) should be regularly and properly cleaned, tested and maintained to ensure that they are kept clean and free from anything which may contaminate the air.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and guidance in Health and Safety Executive document EH40/2005 Workplace Exposure Limits provide greater detail on permissible levels of contaminants, with other references, such as CIBSE Guide A, Environmental Design (A8 Health Issues) providing further information.

THE FM TRACK
Indoor air quality for FMs has long been as much of a dilemma as occupancy comfort. Knowing it is good is one thing, demonstrating it to the satisfaction of building users can be an altogether different proposition.

The types of material comprising your indoor air can vary significantly, depending on the type of premises you have, how it is ventilated, managed and maintained, what it contains, any processes/activities occurring and of course the air outside.

As a consequence, the effect of poor indoor air quality will also vary depending on the types and levels of these “pollutants” or “contaminants”. They can trigger very specific reactions in individuals (i.e. allergic type reactions to a particular allergen) or affect groups of people indiscriminately (raised carbon dioxide levels, for example). Typically, our air comprises:

  • Particles of dust and debris naturally picked up in air streams, influenced by the type of environment (rural/urban) as well as more localised factors such as industry, traffic and construction.
  • Gaseous pollutants can include oxides of nitrogen, ozone, Sulphur dioxide, Carbon monoxide, Carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOC), some of which could be entrained from outside and others generated internally.
  • Biological pollutants can also depend on atmospheric conditions and seasonal variation. Fungal spores, pollen and leaf litter for example are very seasonal, while bacteria like to travel on vectors (other particles) and so wind conditions, cleanliness and humidity can have an effect.
  • Specific chemical pollutants such as Radon are primarily dictated by location and to a lesser extent, building materials.
  • Vehicle emissions, construction/demolition work, local industry and agriculture can all contribute to the contamination found in outside air.

Knowing what your IAQ profile is and how your premises are supporting your indoor environment is not just good from a legal perspective, but from a health, wellbeing and productivity perspective too. How are you managing yours?

WHAT MIGHT BE AFFECTING YOUR IAQ?

• IAQ issues/complaints can be the result of a single or combination of factors.

• What presents as an issue “I’m too hot” may not be caused by just the space temperature. Airflow and/or carbon dioxide levels to name but two other parameters could be the cause.

• Energy saving measures such as increased air recirculation and/or reduced run time for mechanically ventilated systems can have an adversely affect IAQ.

• The air handling unit is not always the culprit for which cleaning will remedy the situation, but it does need to be included in any IAQ assessment where relevant. Mode of air delivery and terminal boxes will also be relevant factors.

• Over population (numbers of people -v- capacity of supply/extract ventilation rates) can affect dust and carbon dioxide levels.

• High humidity levels can cause issues with fungi/moulds.

• Volatile organic compounds (VOC) and other chemicals can be released from furnishings, cleaning products and various building products (glues, mastics, paints, etc.).

• Changes in the external environment, construction, season, traffic routes can affect outside air quality and so IAQ.

About Sarah OBeirne

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