Buildings as ‘Safe Havens’: Combating Toxic Pollution with Improved Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

24th April 2017

A campaign was launched in March urging the government to take action on urban pollution by overhauling the 60-year-old Clean Air Act, the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) have highlighted the importance of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) as a quick action solution, suggesting the new Act should support the role of buildings as ‘safe havens’ from external pollution.

The campaign group, which includes prominent environmental campaigners, health bodies and industry groups, want the government to re-write the Clean Air Act to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles, focusing on tackling transport emissions.

But with people now spending around 80% of their time indoors, the quality of the air that we breathe when we step of the street is more vital than ever before.  While it is clear that tackling ambient air pollution levels is absolutely crucial, BESA say that a renewed focus on IAQ alongside this could achieve much more in a shorter time-frame.

“There is still a lot more we can do to improve indoor air quality (IAQ),” said BESA chief executive Paul McLaughlin. “A series of low cost, maintenance measures to ensure ventilation systems work properly and incoming air is filtered and cleaned would make a major difference to the health and well-being of building occupants.

“Reducing toxic emissions from vehicles and industrial processes is vital, but will take many years to produce results and involve major long-term investment. Improving building ventilation is a quick and relatively painless process that can be tackled today to help protect people in the meantime. Building owners also have a duty of care to protect the health of their tenants and employees.”

Improving IAQ

System design: air handling equipment must be appropriate for a building’s usage and the number of people using it.  Ideally, HVAC systems should be chosen specifically, but in older buildings where this is not possible, it’s important to review and modify air conditioning and ventilation in light of any changes to the building or workforce.  Air hygiene assessments can confirm the overall condition of the extract ventilation and ductwork and contain specific recommendations regarding system improvements.

Airflow and space planning: Make sure vents and grilles aren’t blocked by equipment or furniture.  If heat generating equipment, such as a computer, is placed under a HVAC thermostat it could confuse the system and cause it to deliver too much cold air.  A simple rearrangement of the floor space can make a difference to heating and ventilation.

Planned maintenance: while manufacturer’s instructions should be a benchmark for good system maintenance, its good practice to take a bespoke approach, based on an individual product and its usage.  Preventative maintenance along with regular monitoring will safeguard building occupants and protect against system breakdown.

IAQ Monitoring: continuous review of important factors such as temperature and humidity levels, and pollutants; including carbon monoxide, dust, fungus, bacteria and pathogens; will help building managers to understand problems, rather than taking knee-jerk reactions which may not be sufficient.  IAQ monitoring also helps building comply with Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations.

Ventilation and ductwork cleaning: Filtration will ensure that ventilation and ductwork systems are free from grime and dust which could cause unwanted germs putting employees and equipment at risk.  However, regular ventilation and ductwork cleaning is now essential to comply with many insurance companies as it is a crucial step in preventing fires, unnecessary breakdowns and protecting building interiors.

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