Spotlight on indoor air quality to fight COVID spread

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus health and safety aspects of workplaces, not least the air quality when staff are in confined indoor spaces once again.

With growing concern from scientists about the need for protection from virus-carrying aerosol droplets in the air in addition to respiratory droplets spread among people in close quarters, improvements to existing ventilation systems – or the installation of new ones – are considered key if Britain is to get back to work safely.

Now landlords and building owners are busy studying best practice around indoor air quality to prove to building users that their premises are as safe as possible.

While many buildings simply circulate air from one part to another – risking an increase in the transfer of airborne viruses – it is pleasing to see more property owners investing in ultraviolet UV-C light technology which, when placed inside light fixtures or within HVAC systems, can kill viruses in the circulating air.

Air quality assessments are becoming more commonplace, including airborne particle monitoring to remove all possible traces of infection from the work environment as a building’s health and safety features will play an increasingly prominent role in decisions by would-be employees to work there.

Retro-commissioning – evaluations of the HVAC and other systems – can not only help identify measures that can be taken to improve air quality but also reveal new ways to cut energy consumption, thus reducing a building’s environmental footprint and enhancing its sustainability credentials.

‘Sustainability and public health are the key themes of the moment,’ said Syntegra Managing Director, Alan King. ‘Efficient building systems can help boost both and make a more efficient and pleasant working environment.

‘People have spent lengthy periods away from the workplace during the pandemic and if they are to be persuaded back to the office in large numbers, they need to feel safe and confident that everything that can be done, has been done, to reduce their chances of catching COVID-19 and that they are a part of a team that cares about its staff and environmental impact.

‘We spend a considerable amount of time indoors and we have seen during the recent lockdown an emphasis on fresh air, effective ventilation and the need for additional precautions in indoor spaces during Government public health messages.’

Mark Chapman, Syntegra’s Director of Air Quality, agrees: ‘The current COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased public awareness of what individuals are breathing in with a focus on aerosols and particles as vectors for virus transmission. Improving ventilation, to dilute and remove internally generated contaminants, is critical for reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19 and other air pollution-related illnesses in shared indoor environments.

‘Building operators often resort to the perceived ‘easy-fix’ of opening windows and doors, however achieving higher rates of ventilation by this method has the potential to greatly increase energy costs needed to heat and/or cool the outdoor air. For buildings situated in urban environments, this also increases the risk of introducing building occupants to high levels of noise and outdoor air pollution.

‘In occupied spaces, continuously measuring levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) is an excellent indicator of the efficiency of ventilation systems, which in-turn can aid the removal of internal contaminants, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, radon, and airborne micro-organisms. Unfortunately, CO2 is not a good indicator of levels of introduced contaminants such as particulate matter (2.5 and 10 µm), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone (O3) which can accumulate when drawing in what is perceived to be ‘fresh air’.

‘Thankfully, technologies that allow continuous measurement of multiple Indoor Air Quality parameters to provide both reassurance and early-warning of any undesirable change in public exposure are becoming increasingly affordable. And the aggregation and interpretation of data trends from such technologies is helping to identify where tailored and cost-efficient ventilation improvements can be made.’

It is anticipated that improvements brought about as a result of the pandemic should ultimately lead to healthier building users who will be happier in their workplace and more engaged.

Syntegra works with clients across the built environment to evaluate air quality systems and offer sustainable solutions.

Contact us today if you would like an initial discussion around your building’s systems and potential efficiency savings we could identify and implement for you.