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Clearing the air

Jamie Woodhall, Technical & Innovations Manager at Rentokil Specialist Hygiene with advice on keeping ventilation compliant over the summer and beyond

Britain is in the midst of one of its hottest years. The warmest February day on record occurred this year and the hottest temperature ever in the UK was achieved in July, with the Met Office citing 38.7C at Cambridge University Botanical Gardens.

As the temperatures reached record levels many office workers were likely praising the invention of air conditioning. But, aside from keeping us cool in summer and warm in winter, the majority of workers probably don’t think twice about how the quality of air in their workspace is maintained. Yet it’s a legal requirement for managers and building owners to ensure that any enclosed workplaces are ventilated with fresh, purified air.

Providing clean air to the workplace is generally achieved using an air conditioning or purification system – a device that process and distribute large volumes of air each day. As it does this, it also collects a significant amount of dust and other particles which can build-up if not cleaned regularly.

What many people don’t know is that the accumulation of dirt in ducts and ventilation could potentially allow harmful bacteria to spread through the air management system, and potentially lead to ‘sick building syndrome’. This illness refers to symptoms you only get while in a particular building, such as an office. While it’s not exactly clear what causes sick building syndrome, the NHS claims that poor ventilation and poorly maintained air conditioning systems likely play a part.

In order to keep your air handling systems in top condition and avoid air contamination, it’s important they are monitored and cleaned in line with the guidance set out by regulators.

Depending on the size, location and age of these systems, this can be easier said than done. In this piece, we outline what office managers need to know in order to keep their air handling systems clean, safe, and legally compliant.

The guidance that governs air handling system cleaning in order to comply with workplace regulations is called TR19. Defined by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) 20 years ago, TR19 was created as a way to standardise extract cleaning systems. This has become the standard to which most insurers and the building engineering service sector use when performing ductwork cleaning operations.

The regulation states that ventilation systems must be frequently cleaned to meet standards set out by the Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulation 1992, Section 6. It also requires building and FMs to keep good records showing evidence that the ductwork continues to meet the regulations.

Diligence is key to compliance with TR19. Ducts and ventilation systems should be monitored, or cleaned in accordance with the guidelines, preferably by a professional company, to make the recordkeeping process even easier.

How often your ventilation systems need cleaning depends on its level of usage and the type of business it operates in. Under TR19 guidelines, heavy usage operations should be cleaned every three months. These are typically office buildings in a large city that use their systems between 12 and 16 hours a day, and as a result, are more likely to get blocked from the polluted air. Moderate usage operations are active between 6 and 12 hours a day, and should be cleaned every six months. For those only using ventilation systems for 2-6 hours a day, a clean is advised every 12 months.

The role of specialist technicians is imperative. They will carry out air handling system monitoring, most likely by using a piece of equipment called an Elcometer 456 to measure the levels of dust in the system. The Elcometer 456 is a thickness gauge with a scan probe, providing accurate readings of dry deposit thickness in air handling systems. Once these readings have been obtained, they are collated into a detailed, TR19 compliant report.

Images, schematic drawings and recommendations are also included within this report, which can then be used as evidence of monitoring and adherence with recognised standards.

What’s more, specialist technicians will carry out ventilation and extraction system cleaning services at times convenient to you, causing minimal disruption to your business. Where access is limited, they can also install access panels to ensure that every part of a vent or duct is reached.

In addition to being legally compliant, an air handling system cleaned to TR19 standard is more likely to ventilate fresh air, helping to improve the quality of air in the office which brings significant benefits. According to a study by Harvard and Syracuse Universities, higher air quality in offices has been shown to improve the productivity of workers in the buildings by up to 60 per cent, as well as thinking (27 per cent) and health (30 per cent).

Regular cleaning of ventilation systems will also improve the efficiency of the machinery, helping to reduce costs associated with its usage and maintenance. Regularly checking your systems means you are more likely to identify any issues before they become difficult to fix.

Even though most of the summer heat may have passed, businesses still rely on air conditioning to keep their employees cool and alert during the working week. Thanks to the regulations laid out by TR19, the cleaning and maintenance of air purification and conditioning systems not only helps to prevent the risk of office workers becoming ill, it also drives productivity. It’s vital that this responsibility isn’t forgotten about as we enter Autumn, and that every ventilation system throughout a premise is TR19-verified.

About Sarah OBeirne

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