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Ventilation - Delivering a Healthier Future

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is in the spotlight at present, but the influence of this topic on public health is not limited to the current pandemic.

The World Health Organisation

By Stuart Smith, Group Sales Director, November 2021

The World Health Organisation estimates that around 90% of people globally live with dirty air. The associated increase in poor health and early death makes poor air quality a bigger killer worldwide than smoking. Even in developed countries, such as the UK, the full impact of air pollution is only now beginning to be understood, shedding light on broader health implications such as deteriorating eyesight alongside the higher incidence of respiratory conditions and cancers.

Here, Stuart Smith, Group Sales Director from ventilation specialists Nuaire, provides an insight into how legislative changes alongside system and product innovations could provide the key to improving IAQ in the long term.

The UK Government recently recognised air pollution as the most significant environmental risk to public health, costing the economy around £20bn and contributing to 20,000 premature deaths every year. Given that we spend around 90% of our time indoors, addressing the quality of the air we breathe when inside – in terms of pollutants from external sources and pathogens circulating within – is critical to bringing those figures down.

In addressing the issue, we must look at existing legislation and regulation alongside the critical role of the HVAC industry in developing new, more efficient ways of improving IAQ. Removing the source of pollutants outside is undoubtedly one of the most effective solutions to the problem. There are moves to review the UK Government's Environment Bill and Air Quality Strategy to deliver the step-change required to manage this issue. However, these changes will not happen overnight – in all likelihood, it will be decades before fossil fuel vehicles, one of the biggest sources of pollution, truly become a thing of the past, for example. Further clarity is needed on how to deal with the challenge of managing the spread of pathogens within buildings - a topic that can significantly impact IAQ.

The past year's events demonstrate just how important it is to identify solutions today – helping to ensure that both external and internal air pollutants can be managed, protecting the wellbeing of building occupants. Although many people remain working from home at the moment, the issue of IAQ is already high on the agenda for building and business owners looking to get employees back to their place of work safely.

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Stuart Smith - Group Sales Director

Office workers spend hundreds of hours each year indoors

Indoor air quality matters to office workers around the UK and globally - who clock up hundreds upon hundreds of hours indoors each year. Whilst professionals have been temporarily required to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, office environments are becoming populated once again. With this comes a challenge and an opportunity to improve and bolster air quality within these environments. Ensuring the health and wellbeing of workers has never been a higher priority as we emerge from this global crisis.

Part F of the UK Building Regulations mandates the performance of ventilation systems to achieve the desired inflow of fresh air and outflow of pollutants within buildings. At present, however, Part F only sets minimum requirements for the rate of fresh airflow into a building – to ensure there is a sufficient supply of fresh air to push out pollutants. However, it does not stipulate requirements for how that fresh air is circulated once it is within the building envelope.

Although this is not a major issue for smaller buildings, it becomes more problematic the more extensive the internal space and the greater the area supplied by a given ventilation system. For example, someone sitting next to a ventilation terminal in a large office will receive an optimal flow of fresh air when the system is functioning as needed. However, those sitting at the other end of the office are likely to receive a poorer circulation of fresh air that would have passed across their colleagues before it reaches them. This often-seen situation can lead to pathogens being picked up while circulating across the office, which is particularly concerning for those sitting in poorly ventilated spaces within a building every day; the air they breathe may well be quality measurably worse than that of their colleagues.

This can be further complicated when the layout of a building is changed. What may have been an effective method of air circulation when a building was first built may no longer be suitable. For example, when an internal structure of an office is modified due to a change of use or increase in personnel. In that case, it is not possible to modify the ventilation system accordingly and, consequently, puts the health of those occupying the building at greater risk. Most ventilation systems do not have the flexibility to adapt to these changes to maintain an adequate supply of fresh air for all individuals.

Whilst the Covid pandemic has drawn close attention to the issue of IAQ, we must recognise the wider impact it can have on the well-being of building occupants. It's time that the industry focuses its considerable expertise to ensure we work together to keep everyone healthy wherever they are and for however long. Revising legislation to provide more explicit requirements on how air quality is managed across different areas of a building is crucial. With the pressure to improve IAQ in shared environments stronger than ever, the HVAC industry can play a significant role in helping to ensure advances in ventilation technology help shape the indoor spaces of the future.

Read the article in spec finish here -

For more information about ventilation solutions for commercial properties, specifically in office buildings, visit our office ventilation systems page.

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