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Saturday, 14 December

Clean Air, Why We Should Care

Each year, more than 130 million workdays are lost in the UK due to sickness, costing employers a staggering £32 billion in lost productivity. And scientific research has established that the air we breathe in a shared work environment can negatively affect our wellbeing and productivity.

The existence of bacteria, germs, viruses, pollens, mould, VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) and other indoor contaminants has serious consequences for our health and capacity to perform at our peak level. A company’s employees may be its greatest asset but typically they are also its largest expense.

In fact, people costs are nine times higher than building and energy costs for most organisations. The annual expense associated with absent employees is estimated to be £975 per employee. For even a small firm of 10 employees this equates to nearly £10,000 a year and in an increasingly competitive marketplace of tight margins, it can mean the difference between turning over a profit or not. According to the World Green Buildings Council, an improvement in indoor air quality can result in employee productivity improvements of between 8 -11%.

 

Survey

Given these facts, the prospective benefits of improving air quality within work places is readily evident. A ThisWeekinFM survey, commissioned by AeraMax PRO, part of Fellowes UK, investigated the reality of facilities managers’ perception, treatment and monitoring of indoor air quality within a workspace environment. The survey results disclose some interesting and alarming insights concerning the air we breathe whilst at work.

Of the 112 facilities managers surveyed, 90% viewed indoor air quality as an important issue. Despite this, only 50% actually monitored it more than once a year, with 30% never taking the time to monitor indoor air quality.

All survey respondents divulged that they had experienced indoor air quality issues. Additionally, the three main methods identified to safeguard indoor air quality control were air conditioning systems, air handling units or natural ventilation.

Ventilation can improve the indoor air quality of a facility but ventilation alone only transfers air; its primary purpose is not to remove harmful particles or purify it. Moreover, it is well established within the climate control industry that HVAC systems that are not properly serviced and maintained can become hazardous sources of pollutants. Ventilation air filters can become saturated enabling microbial growth and odour concerns to develop. Stagnant water contained in drain pans or moisture inside air ducts and cooling coils can act as a petri dish for microbial growth, resulting in poor indoor air quality and thus sickness and absenteeism amongst employees.

Although, HVAC systems are periodically inspected for the purpose of increasing efficiency, these inspections rarely measure indoor air quality. In fact, research conducted by the Center for Disease Control revealed that two out three issues of indoor air quality involve the HVAC system. Consequently, the air that employees share in areas of high occupancy continues to adversely affect their wellbeing, health and productivity.

Despite the obvious risk posed to employee’s welfare, there is still no legally binding requirement for facilities managers to improve the air quality of a building or areas of high foot traffic and occupancy, such as schools, offices and hospitals. Regardless of this legislative oversight, the provision of a comfortable working environment should not be overlooked by facilities managers, especially as products now exist which complement existing HVAC and ventilation systems in the provision of good quality indoor air.

 

What can I do?

An example of such a product is the AeraMax PRO. The AeraMax PRO utilises a four-stage filtering system to significantly enhance the air quality of entire buildings, removing 99.9% of air contaminants. A HEPA filter (high efficiency particulate air), treated with an antimicrobial layer, captures 99.97 per cent of airborne particulate down to as small as 0.3 microns. An activated carbon filter adsorbs unwanted odours and volatile organic compounds and a bipolar ioniser breaks down microorganisms and odours throughout the room, providing a cleaner, more hygienic indoor environment.

Intelligent sensors detect the air purifier’s spatial environment and duly adjust its output and settings depending on foot traffic, noise levels, room occupancy and other factors. This helps extend filter life and reduce energy consumption.

 

A big issue

As an issue of such prevalent importance, facilities managers should be looking to adopt a more ardent approach to indoor air quality - sole reliance on a HVAC system is no longer adequate or acceptable. By implementing actions to improve indoor air quality, facilities managers can ensure a healthier working environment in the buildings they service as well as positively impacting on their companies’ bottom line.

Picture: Mike Booth, European Marketing Manager for Air Treatment at Fellowes UK

 

Article written by Mike Booth

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