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The Building Engineering Services Association is championing the need to monitor and improve the air quality in buildings.
90% of our time is spent inside buildings making it vitally important to improve the quality of the air we breathe. An increasing number of studies have proven the link between air pollution, which includes poor indoor air quality, with a number of health issues from heart and lung problems, to decreased levels of productivity in the workplace.
A BESA commissioned survey found that poor IAQ had negative effects on office workers with almost 70% stating poor air quality in their place of work had a negative effect on their day-to-day productivity and well-being. The survey also found that workers regularly experienced lapses in concentration, fatigue and decreased productivity levels due to poor IAQ.
The building engineering services industry has a key role in helping to create buildings that act as safe havens and clean air zones. As an Association we are working facilitate our industry's role in improving IAQ by raising awareness on the issue. We are campaigning for amends to be made to Building Regulations in order to include a requirement for a broad-based pollution checks to be undertaken while buildings are being developed, ensuring real thought is given to the quality of the air inside buildings once they are completed.
This dedicated area gives details of the latest information and research taking place along with industry campaigns and IAQ events.
Health campaigners back our ‘Beginner’s guide’
The BESA Health & Wellbeing in Buildings group has produced a ‘Beginners Guide’ to Indoor Air Quality’ (IAQ) in partnership with affiliate member Mitsubishi Electric.
The Guide has gained the support of leading campaigners and healthcare experts including World Health Organisation (WHO) advocate Rosamund Adoo Kissi-Debrah, the British Lung Foundation, and Global Action Plan – the organisers of National Clean Air Day.
Designed to be an easily digestible and non-technical introduction to the subject, the ‘Beginner’s Guide to Indoor Air Quality’ offers advice and guidance for employees and visitors to commercial buildings and, with so many people now working from home, includes some easy tips for optimising IAQ in residential settings.
The controversy and debate around air quality has never been more heated and this has thrust the broad topic of building ventilation and air cleaning into the limelight – particularly as more people start to consider returning to offices, schools and public buildings in the wake of the pandemic.
This digital publication can be downloaded for free here – and it is also being promoted to the widest possible audience including consumers, commercial building managers, school leadership teams, policy makers etc.
The Beginner’s Guide will also be of interest to engineers and specialist firms involved in designing, commissioning, and managing indoor environments because it provides a useful overview of the main topic areas. It would work as a starting point for anyone looking to set up a strategy for tackling the poor IAQ that is having a detrimental impact on thousands of UK buildings and their occupants.
With an introduction from Kissi-Debrah, the guide, which includes a wealth of information provided the Health & Wellbeing in Buildings group, explains how the ventilation and building services industry is able to turn buildings into ‘safe havens’ to protect occupants – particularly children who face the greatest risks – from the worst impacts of contaminated air.
“This guide is an invaluable non-technical introduction to the issue of IAQ and explains how we can make our own indoor environments safer and healthier for us and our children.” said Kissi-Debrah, who is also honorary president of the group.
Back to school
Decades of under-investment in school buildings has been brought sharply into focus by the pandemic. School managers had very few weapons at their disposal with which to fight the virus and what budget they did have was largely used up on social distancing signage, improving handwashing facilities, boxes of tissues and PPE.
When it became apparent that the virus was airborne, most had no adequate mechanical ventilation and reverted to opening windows to try and increase airflows. Now that schools are preparing to re-open on March 8, they are at least armed with greater knowledge about how the virus moves around indoor spaces, but few have the means to act on that knowledge.
Many schools can only rely on opening windows to try and increase indoor airflows, but BESA says most of those in urban settings should not because of their location next to busy roads making them vulnerable to air pollution and noise. In any case, opening windows does not guarantee the air change rates needed to reduce viral loads. It is completely temperature and wind direction dependent and likely to leave unventilated, stagnant spots around the room. That freezing child next to the window might be virus free, however!
One of the UK’s top experts on building ventilation is also a member of the government’s scientific advisory group SAGE. Professor Cath Noakes has been a vocal proponent of “engineered solutions” to the IAQ challenge and has identified gaps in a strategy that relies on natural ventilation.
She has been telling the government that engineering controls should sit above measures that rely on human behaviour such as distancing and wearing face coverings in any “hierarchy of risk control”.
“We don’t have all the answers, but we do know we need to ventilate better,” she told a recent BESA webinar. “This is not just about flow rates as it depends on the size of the space. 10 litres per second per person is the ideal, but if people are close together and for an extended period, we may need more flow rate. You can also have quite a lot of people in a large space with lower ventilation rates.”
The key factor with an engineered mechanical ventilation approach is that it can give you control over the air movement. The paths taken by air is critical and will be different depending on the layout of the space and the occupancy levels. Displacement ventilation, for example, was shown to be effective in removing viral loads by a Cambridge University study during the pandemic, but it might not be effective in every situation.
The BESA Health & Wellbeing in Buildings group is working with ventilation manufacturers and other specialists to develop low cost engineered solutions that are long overdue but have not yet been produced on any great scale for schools due to shortage of funding
“Before the pandemic, local authorities were facing growing community pressure to address the air quality issues around school buildings caused by traffic pollution. Now, in the wake of Covid-19, the focus has moved inside and, if we want people to feel more confident about returning to any communal building, then this issue needs to be properly addressed,” says group chair Nathan Wood.
A good starting point for any IAQ strategy is the new BESA ‘Beginner’s Guide to IAQ’ produced in partnership with Mitsubishi Electric.
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