Developing an Indoor Air Quality Plan (IAQ) tailored to your building and surroundings is now considered essential in ensuring that air quality can be managed to the highest possible standards.
In schools, offices, warehouses, public facilities, factories, retail establishments and other building types across the UK, there is a growing awareness that air quality plays an integral role in human health. Over a series of three articles, Concept Filter Products (CFP) will explain how to transform your building’s air quality in line with the latest best practice.
Step 1: Assess your external air quality
The journey to optimal indoor air quality starts by looking outside, after all, this is where most pollutants originate from. The quality of the air surrounding your building/s will differ significantly from those in other areas, due to your immediate surroundings. Whether your building is in a city, or near a farm, industrial area, factory, power plant, or main road or any other source of pollutants, these will determine the specific airborne risk factors in your immediate vicinity. In addition, it is now widely established that viruses such as COVID-19 are airborne pathogens, and hence it is vital to ensure that as much as possible that these are prevented circulating within buildings. Once on surfaces, pathogens such as COVID-19 can remain for many hours. Indeed, research on the ‘stability’ of Coronavirus (also referred to as SARS-CoV-2) shows that a “viable” virus can remain on plastic and stainless steel, even after 72 hours.
Effective air filtration is the main line of defence from external pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), fumes, gases, dust and other allergens, and airborne pathogens. The higher the level of contaminants in your immediate vicinity, the greater the need to ensure you have sufficient filtration, airflow, and exhaust ventilation.
Step 2: Set benchmarks for clean air in your building
At the core of best practice when it comes to improving air quality is setting thresholds for indoor air pollutants. In doing so, building owners and those in positions of responsibility can be assured that investment in filtering out external pollutants is working effectively on a consistent basis. Where air quality drops below the set threshold for a particular pollutant, action can then be taken to make improvements.
In particular, it is important to measure the level of pollutants such as particulate matter (e.g. diesel particulates from vehicles), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) (such as formaldehyde), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead.
Once you have set acceptable levels of air quality, it is then important to put in place a regular schedule for measurement (there are many third-party specialists who can undertake indoor air quality testing on your behalf on a regular fix-term basis) and to determine what should be done if any level breaches the threshold. This is the purpose of developing an IAQ plan. An IAQ plan is a ‘living document’ which is kept up to date with the latest air quality legislation and ensures that the appropriate action is taken if measurements exceed the tolerances set. An IAQ plan can be used to specify:
- the frequency of checks, including what should be checked on a monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, or annual basis. This ensures that air quality is under constant review and does not become a matter which becomes forgotten.
- Air quality measurement thresholds
- Risks identified
- How information relating to indoor air quality should be communicated within the business
- Who is responsible for air quality
- How the IAQ plan will be periodically reviewed
The IAQ plan can also contain specific guidance for employees on how air quality can be improved within the building. For example, REHVA, the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations, is currently recommending that schools use the following best practice for COVID-19:
- Switch air handling units with central recirculation to 100% outdoor air
- Ensure CO2 controlled ventilation runs at maximum capacity during occupancy
- Switch on ventilation at least two hours before & after occupancy, and;
- Open windows as much as possible during school hours & ensure airing during breaks
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly brought air quality in buildings to the forefront for business owners and building managers across the UK. It is recommended that all businesses carry out an air quality review with a view to ensuring that harmful external pathogens and pollutants are prevented and minimised as much as possible. At the core of this strategy should be an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) plan based on an initial assessment of the air surrounding your building, setting benchmarks for indoor air quality, and regular ongoing measurements.
In our next article, we will focus on best practice for air filtration units and how to clarify your air filtration needs based on the types of particulate pollution around and within your building.