Our team of air quality experts have developed a good resource of answers to some common questions asked by our customers. If you have a question on workplace compliance, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Under the (Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, the employer is obliged to demonstrate that the air inside your building is equal to, if not better than the air outside. Artificial ventilation systems, such as air conditioning are designed to remove the majority of pollutants from the outside air, before it is supplied to the building. In fact, our testing has shown that naturally ventilated buildings are more likely to suffer with heat gain in the summer and high levels of carbon dioxide in the winter, than buildings with artificial ventilation systems.
The viruses that cause colds and flu require a lot of tender loving case, and the right environment to grow. Air conditioning systems provide very harsh environments where it is impossible for these viruses to survive.
There is no legal frequency at which ventilation systems must be cleaned.
However, under the Health & Safety at work Act etc 1974, and the Occupiers Liability Act, an employer has a duty of care to make sure that a safe and healthy environment is provided for employees and occupants. Therefore, as an employer or landlord, it is your responsibility to make sure that the air being supplied to the environment meets the requirements as set out in for example the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) regulations 1992 (Regulation 6) and L24 – The Approved Code of Practice attached to the regulations which states “The air which is introduced should, as far as possible, be free of any impurity which is likely to be offensive or cause ill health”.
Cleaning a ventilation system is a drastic and expensive measure in maintaining a good standard of indoor air quality. Thankfully, ventilation systems in fact rarely require cleaning to make sure of good air quality; therefore, it tends to be more cost effective for employers and landlords to monitor the air being supplied. This can clearly demonstrate the cleanliness of a ventilation system, compliance with regulations, and identify any potential issues which may need attention.
Competitiveness and productivity in the workplace are of paramount importance, with more emphasis on this than ever in the current political climate. Employee performance declines when Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are high and also creates the impression of a stuffy office environment among many workers. With organisations wanting to boost their productivity, understanding how carbon dioxide impacts your employees’ work-life is crucial.
Occupancy levels can have a major effect on the quality of your office environment. Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels outdoors typically range between 300ppm (parts per million) and 500ppm. In-office areas, this can increase to levels between 700ppm and 1000ppm, depending on the occupant density and the level of fresh air entering the office space. BRE (Building Research Establishment) have identified a correlation between air-tightness and levels of ventilation. Highly airtight buildings are energy efficient but less ventilated and prone to accumulation of air pollutants. Occupants can often complain that they’re too warm, resulting in thermostats being adjusted. However, elevated carbon dioxide levels can often be a result of this. An increased intake of CO2 can actually lead to poor decision-making and thinking processes meaning that people’s mental capacity decreases. Reaction times are also slower, so employees may find it challenging to react properly and swiftly to things, such as a fire evacuation or even simple, everyday tasks. CO2 tends to increase tiredness as well, meaning your employees will not be at their best and find it harder to cope with workloads and stresses. All of this can contribute to a low-productivity environment.
A recent study showed that individuals working under heavier CO2 concentrations (1400ppm in the study), performed 50% worse in cognitive tasks compared to those working in the low 550ppm scenario. The long term exposure limit (8-hour period) for CO2 has been set at 5000ppm by The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and in the Health and Safety Executive document EH40 Workplace Exposure Limits. This demonstrates that without regular monitoring in place, your office environment could have a seriously detrimental effect on employee productivity before breaching legal limits.
Workplace comfort and indoor air quality are important issues for today’s employees, and there is an increasing amount of legislation in these areas that are open to misinterpretation. This has led to much confusion over what needs to be done in order to comply with legislation whilst making sure that safe air and a healthy environment are provided for staff.
There is currently no legal requirement to have an air quality monitoring regime in place within your workplace. However, there are legal stipulations as to office environment provided to your staff and occupants. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations state that ‘Effective and suitable provision shall be made to ensure that every enclosed workplace is ventilated by a sufficient quantity of fresh or purified air’. Section 6 details that ‘Enclosed workplaces should be sufficiently well ventilated so that stale air, and air which is hot or humid because of the processes or equipment in the workplace, is replaced at a reasonable rate.’ Additionally, ‘The air which is introduced should, as far as possible, be free of any impurity which is likely to be offensive or cause ill health.’
Section 7 of the Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations states that the ‘temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable’. The HSE have guidelines as to the recommended lower temperature parameters. Conversely, no meaningful figure is given to the upper indoor temperature parameter, only that employers have an obligation to ensure that it is ‘reasonable’.
The document EH40 contains the list of workplace exposure limits for use with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. These are the legal limits set by the HSE at which individuals should be exposed to at work, ranging from dust to carbon dioxide.
So although there is no legal requirement to have an air quality monitoring regime in place, it will provide you with the key evidence needed to demonstrate that you are complying with legislation and making sure that a healthy environment is provided to staff.
The air we breathe not only consists of oxygen, and other primary gases such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide, but also contains various materials from the surrounding environment; particulates. These are tiny bits of solids, or liquids, suspended in the air and are a complex group of pollutants that vary in size, shape, composition and origin.
Particulates in the air are naturally picked up in air streams and will vary from dust, debris, and other contaminants. The particulates present will be affected by the type of environment – a rural environment will be very different to an urban one, but also more localised factors such as traffic, construction and manufacturers will have a large effect.
Some particulates are more harmful than others. Generally, the government focuses on PM2.5 and PM10 (the PM translating to particle matter, and the numbers relating to the size of the particles, measured in microns).
PM10 pollutants often are large enough to get trapped in your nose when inhaled. The largest particles (PM10) get caught through the nasal passage; however, it’s the PM2.5 particles that are more concerning. These are microscopically small which can not only enter your lungs but also into your bloodstream. It’s these particles which can pass through the nerves which connect the nose to the brain. Increased respiratory symptoms, aggravation of asthma, irritation of mucous membranes and bacterial infections are just some of the problems related to particle matter.