Why do I need to monitor my Indoor Air Quality?

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) monitoring should be of concern to everybody, as we spend most of our daily lives indoors, be it at work, home or within public or commercial buildings. Poor indoor air quality is a relatively common occurrence and exposure to contaminants at significant levels can have wide ranging short and long-term impacts on health and performance levels.

The World Health Organisation coined the phrase ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ (SBS) in the 1980s which refers to a combination of ailments associated with an individual’s place of work or residence. They suggested up to 30% of new and remodelled buildings worldwide may be linked to symptoms of SBS and most cases were found to be related to poor indoor air quality; often pinned down to a lack of adequate fresh air exchange and the build-up of carbon dioxide, amongst other pollutants.

Over the last few decades, there has been a continuous drive within Building Regulations and the construction industry to make new buildings more energy efficient and airtight, which often exacerbates the issue of inadequate fresh air exchange.

Contaminants may be introduced to a building via the external air supply or be generated from indoor activities, furnishings, building materials, air handling units etc. The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has recently published an IAQ guidance document titled ‘A beginner’s guide to indoor air quality’ – 2021. This document outlines that the following common indoor pollutants are of concern and should be monitored for;

  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Particulate Matter (PM)
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
  • Radon
  • Mould
  • Humidity

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    What is the general definition of good indoor air quality?

    Good indoor air quality (IAQ) may be defined as air with no known contaminants at harmful concentrations or at levels which cause discomfort to occupants. The general factors required for good IAQ are detailed below:

    • Provision of sufficient fresh air supply rates to dilute and remove pollutants;
    • Effective ventilation, i.e. providing ventilation where it is needed and in a form that will most efficiently remove pollutants;
    • Low external pollution concentrations;
    • Low pollutant emission rates from internal sources, including building materials and furnishings.

    Is there a legal requirement to carry out IAQ monitoring in your building / work premises?

    There is a legal requirement to conduct appropriate air testing if your risk assessments carried out under The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations have identified that there are substances or activities occurring on site which pose specific health risks related to air quality. In such scenarios, specialised testing in accordance with HSE Workplace Exposure Limits may well be required.

    There is currently no specific legal requirement for routine monitoring of indoor air quality to be conducted in typical workplace environments (i.e. offices, schools, public buildings), however, The Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations require under regulation 6, that building owners and managers ensure that enclosed workplaces are ventilated with fresh and purified air.

    In England & Wales, ventilation requirements for health are primarily covered by Part F of the Building Regulations. Minimum ventilation rates are specified for all common buildings including dwellings, offices, schools, public buildings etc. The Part F document is currently under review and is likely to include additional requirements for improved ventilation in response to the Covid pandemic issue, plus it will specify that carbon dioxide monitors will be required in rooms above a certain occupancy level.

    How Swiftclean can help?

    Our aim is to provide you with professional guidance in relation to any air quality concerns you may have, offering a tailored service, with a flexible approach to suit your requirements. All of our indoor air quality assessments are scientifically based and conducted in a thorough manner by suitably trained professionals.

    Implementing indoor air quality monitoring within your workplace will demonstrate to your employees and building occupants that you take their health seriously and are being proactive in identifying and rectifying any air quality issues. Staff wellbeing and productivity can also be improved by increasing fresh air exchange rates where necessary, which will reduce the likelihood of occupants suffering from lethargy, reduced concentration, headaches etc.

    We primarily conduct IAQ surveys using real-time monitoring equipment, which is the most cost-effective way of carrying out testing across numerous locations in a timely manner. We will always advise you on the best course of action in scenarios where alternative and more in-depth test methods are appropriate; collection of physical samples and subsequent laboratory analysis are required in some instances.

    Our IAQ reports are detailed and include all test data, whilst also being designed to be user friendly and easy to understand. They always include a summary of findings and remedial recommendations section, utilising a ‘traffic light’ system to help you prioritise any identified issues.

    What air quality parameters do Swiftclean typically monitor for and why?

    Temperature

    High, low and excessively fluctuating temperatures in a work space can be very uncomfortable for building occupants and may exacerbate existing health conditions and reduce productivity. An occupants’ perception of the room temperature can be greatly influenced by excessive air flow / drafts from ventilation grilles, which can cause stiff necks, dry eyes etc.

    Humidity

    At high relative humidity levels, the environment can feel warmer and oppressive, plus fungal / mould and bacteria growth is encouraged. At low humidity levels respiratory surfaces dry out causing dehydration, dry / sore throat, increased susceptible to airborne pathogens, sinus problems, sore eyes, headaches and skin irritation.

    Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

    Carbon dioxide is typically the single most relevant test parameter with regards to general indoor air quality, as CO2 levels indicate whether adequate fresh air exchange rates are being achieved. Typical symptoms of elevated CO2 levels are reduced concentration levels, lethargy, drowsiness and headaches. If levels rise to 5000ppm or above this would breach HSE Workplace Exposure Limits and the associated symptoms become progressively more serious.

    Carbon Monoxide (CO)

    Carbon monoxide is generated by fuel combustion; vehicle exhausts, portable generators, gas or wood burning fires, damaged boiler flue pipes etc. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning; headaches, flu-like illness, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, breathlessness, collapse, loss of consciousness and potentially death.

    Microbial Air Sampling

    Microbial air sampling is conducted to determine general levels of airborne micro-organisms (fungi/mould & bacteria) present in the workplace air, as this is considered a good indicator of whether fresh air exchange rates are adequate and is a potential indicator of the condition of associated supply ventilation systems. Sampling is conducted using an air pump which passes a specified volume of air over agar contact plates; samples are subsequently transported to an independent UKAS accredited laboratory for processing.

    Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

    VOCs are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at ordinary room temperature, which causes large numbers of molecules to evaporate from the substance and enter the surrounding air. Sources of VOCs are numerous, varied, and ubiquitous, including; paints, wood finishing products, cleaning chemicals, detergents, solvents and thinners, aerosols, air fresheners, candles, new furnishings, rubber floors etc. Most scents or odours are of VOCs and some are dangerous to human health. Harmful VOCs typically are not acutely toxic, but have compounding long-term health effects. Negative health effects of VOC exposure can include eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, fatigue, damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system; some VOCs are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.

    Particulate Matter (PM)

    Airborne particulates are typically a complex mixture of organic and inorganic substances, with the major components being made up of mineral dust, black carbon, sulphates, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride and liquid droplets. While particles with a diameter of 10 microns (PM10) or less can penetrate and lodge deep inside the lungs, the even more health damaging particles are those with a diameter of 2.5 microns (PM2.5) or less. PM2.5 particles can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the blood system. Chronic exposure to particles contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as of lung cancer.

    Mould

    Moulds produce spores which include allergens, irritants and sometimes toxic substances. Inhaling or touching mould spores may cause an allergic reaction, such as sneezing, a runny nose, red eyes, skin rash and can also cause asthma attacks. For susceptible individuals, exposure to mould spores can have wide ranging and serious health effects which can be extremely debilitating. Excessive moisture build-up can occur in buildings due to various factors; leaking pipes, rising damp in basements or ground floors, penetrating damp through walls, rain seeping in due to roof damage or cracks around window frames, condensation etc. Our mould surveys typically include the following elements; damp survey of building, thermal imaging, mould spore-trap sampling, mould numeration and identification, and health risk evaluation.

    Radon (Rn)

    Radon gas occurs everywhere around the world, escaping from the breakdown of uranium in igneous rock and underground water. This odourless, colourless, and tasteless gas seeps up to the earth’s surface and can potentially build up within buildings. Radon at higher levels is very dangerous as it can cause cancer; approximately 21,000 people die from radon-related lung cancer every year in the United States and 20,000 in the EU. Radon levels fluctuate over time and therefore monitoring needs to be carried out continuously for a prolonged period; monitoring is typically carried out over three months in order to average out short-term fluctuations.

    Other Gases

    There are numerous other gases which may be of potential interest or that may need to be included as part of a tender / consultant specification, such as; Sulphur Dioxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Formaldehyde, Ozone etc. Elevated levels of many gases are likely to have negative health effects on building occupants, with resulting wide range of mild to more serious symptoms.

    Light / Lux Levels

    Poor lighting has also been linked to Sick Building Syndrome in both new and refurbished buildings, resulting in symptoms such as eyestrain, headaches, migraines, lethargy, irritability and reduced concentration.

    What are the benefits of using data loggers?

    The ongoing development of data loggers over recent years has been a game changer in the IAQ monitoring industry, as continuous monitoring provides a wealth of data which is extremely valuable for identifying any air quality issues and trends.

    An updated version of Part F of the Building Regulations is due for publication in 2021 and it will stipulate that rooms above a certain occupation level will need to include monitors that allow for continuous monitoring of carbon dioxide levels.

    The data logger units we utilise are capable of monitoring the following IAQ test parameters;

    • Temperature
    • Relative Humidity
    • Carbon Dioxide
    • Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOCs)
    • Radon
    • Air Pressure
    • Virus Risk Indicator (provides score ratings based on algorithms of other IAQ monitoring data)

    The data loggers we use are battery operated and connect wirelessly to the internet via a hub unit using either Wifi or mobile signal. Live data can be easily accessed and viewed using an online dashboard, which generates colour coded graphs of all recorded IAQ data.

    What happens once an IAQ survey has been carried out?

    On completion of the IAQ monitoring survey, any physical samples collected will be transported directly to a UKAS accredited laboratory for processing. Once all test results have been collated, a detailed report will be provided to you which include all test results, a summary of findings, conclusions and recommended remedial actions.

    What happens if my indoor air quality is found to be poor?

    For test results which are available on the day of survey, that are considered to be poor / out of parameter, the site contact will, where available, be advised of any such issues before the surveyor leaves site.

    Reports are issued for all IAQ surveys and any out of parameter / poor test results will be clearly highlighted. Appropriate recommendations are included and prioritised using a simple ‘traffic light’ colour coding key in order to help effectively convey the importance and relative urgency of each identified issue.

    We always strive to offer helpful and practically achievable guidance to our clients.

    IAQ monitoring expertise?

    We work in accordance with the most relevant industry legislation and guidelines such as those published by the International Standards Organisation (ISO), Health & Safety Executive (HSE), Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) and World Health Organisation (WHO).

    We have long-standing relationships with occupational hygienists and accredited laboratories, ensuring cost-effective, impartial and accurate sample analysis when necessary.

    Call for a FREE quote

    Please call us or email info@swiftclean.co.uk for further advice and a free quote.

    CALL 0800 243 471