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FM Magazine

Clearing the Air

Mark Bouldin, environmental specialist at Johnson Controls, explains why indoor air quality (IAQ) ought to be as important a political narrative as the health and wellbeing of building users is imperative.

The importance of clean air is finally being recognised. In the United Kingdom, a new clean air law will be serve as a fitting tribute to nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, who died from asthma induced by air pollution. Once enacted, the Bill will establish a right to clean air, and set up a commission to oversee government actions and progress – but could more be done?

Air pollution is considered the greatest environmental threat to our health, causing 7 million premature deaths per year, and the global pandemic clearly exposed the threat that dirty air can pose. While life is slowly resuming a semblance of normality, it doesn’t divert from the fact that every year, human-made air pollution causes up to 36,000 deaths in the UK.  

Poor indoor air quality causes heart and lung diseases, is linked to low birth weight and children’s lung development and may even contribute to mental health issues. The way the clean air problem can be tackled is clear: improving both outdoor and indoor air quality through a number of means. It might be surprising to know that we spend 90 of our time in buildings. So, when much of the conversations surround improving outdoor air quality, indoor air quality (IAQ) cannot be ignored. Indoor air is sometimes five times more polluted than outdoor air, so even just ensuring clean air is being filtered in from outside buildings can be enough.

Given the public interest in the quality of our outdoor air – as evidenced by the recent commemoration of Clean Air Day on 16th June, followed by Breathe Easy Week a few days later, it is crucial for businesses and governments to show demonstrable action to keep people happy and, most importantly, healthy.

So how can we improve our air quality?

Control, improved ventilation, and clean air technology can all assist in improving outdoor and indoor air quality. Among other changes, existing buildings must improve the quality of air through the installation of new controls. In new buildings, there must be regulations put in place to ensure that the air quality for the occupants is safe, efficient, and healthy. Without clean air technology, particulate matter can invade our indoor spaces and cause health problems.

The Situation Now

Air pollution should be considered as a decisive factor for all of us in choosing an area to live in and a place to work. To start delivering the change at the speed needed, we must look to the technologies that address the problem.  To improve the air that we breathe every day, we need to use operational technology. Technologies exist which can capture 99.7% of airborne pathogens, ensuring the air people breathe is safe.

To drastically improve air pollution, businesses will need to install ventilation, filtration, and disinfection technology, which must be linked to an occupancy measuring solution and technology to measure air quality.

Truthfully, regulations around clean air need to be revised and drastically improved. Currently, the HSE Approved Code of Practice states fresh air should not fall below 5 to 8 litres of air per second per occupant, while CIBSE’s guidance suggests that buildings should have a ventilation rate of 10 litres. For the regulations to be effective, though, more needs to change than just the ventilation rate. Simply put, regulations are not strong enough and will put the health of your employees and the productivity of your business at risk. Businesses that truly want to get the best out of their employees and keep them healthy must set their own benchmark higher for clean air.

It’s great to tick the regulatory box but we shouldn’t be waiting to be pushed to make these changes – there is added value in being more energy efficient and using smart technologies, particularly in the name of safety. One thing is for certain: to avoid falling short, clean air technology is a must.

The Role of Tech in Clean Air

While it’s a given that we must put safety first, how is clean air technology successfully implemented? To effectively exceed current clean air regulations, the technology used must be linked to an occupancy measuring solution and technology to measure air quality.

Occupancy management and measuring come down to two things. Firstly, it’s about ensuring the maximum occupancy of rooms isn’t exceeded, this can be done effectively by introducing booking systems, which is particularly easy post-Covid due to a hybrid working environment. Secondly, it’s important to use technology which can constantly count how many people are in each room.

The data collected from the occupancy measuring technology can then be fed to the ventilation, filtration, and disinfection technologies. So long as the maximum occupancy isn’t exceeded, you can then automatically adjust ventilation rates in the room, providing the optimum level of clean air for the number of occupants. This integrated approach ensures the system isn’t working at full throttle all day, helping to reduce costs and improve energy efficiency.

The Positive Outcomes

Investing in clean air technology means investing in occupants’ health. Not only do the occupants benefit, but so do businesses – it’s a win/win! Improved indoor air quality not only holds huge health benefits, but also increases productivity within the workplace.

Outside of protecting your building’s occupants from the spread of viruses, such as COVID-19, a constant flow of clean air can increase productivity by 11 per cent.

Integrated clean air technologies allow employees to focus and thrive in their respective environments, and businesses now have the opportunity to create an environment that’s sustainable, efficient, and healthy.

Ultimately, IAQ needs to be put firmly on the agenda all year round.

CAMFIL HVAC Filtration Solutions

Mark Bouldin

Mark Bouldin is a digital transformation who focuses on creating healthy, productive and sustainable buildings with AI and ML, and workplace transformation at Johnson Controls.

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