Legal Requirements of Air Conditioning Maintenance
2013 is The European Environment Agency’s (EEA) “Year of Air,” but air pollution and the resultant health issues are not just an outdoor environment issue. Following the introduction of British standard for cleanliness for cleanliness levels in the HVAC sector BS 15780 and with the R22 deadline looming, facilities managers and anyone involved in the maintenance of non-domestic property should be aware of what will be required of them in the next 18 months.
Guidelines for air in the workplace
The Health & Safety Executive guidelines state that between 13°C (56°F) and 30°C (86°F) is the legally required temperature for the workplace. Relative humidity is required to be kept at around 50%, with at least 10 liters per second per person of fresh air and 0.1-0.5 meters per second air movement speed. To meet these criteria most companies will need to use air conditioning systems.
BS 15780 duct cleanliness
Previous legislation regarding the cleanliness of ductwork did not have properly measurable, standardized assessment criteria. However, the new BS 15780 has changed this, making it very clear what is and what is not acceptable, in terms of air conditioning duct cleanliness. The new legislation assesses the need and frequency of cleaning as well as how to inspect systems and assess the outcome.
It is therefore important that employers and facilities managers ensure ductwork is inspected and compliant levels of cleanliness maintained, especially following installation, modification or refurbishment. Minimum standards of cleanliness depend on the type of space being ventilated, from low occupancy storage rooms to tightly regulated hospital treatment areas.
Health issues caused by unclean ducts
The implications of disregarding regulations and guidelines regarding cleaning air ducts could be severe. The ventilation system is often the first major service to be installed in new buildings or modified in refurbishment, but dirt and debris from other building works can get inside and contaminate a system.
An assumption is often made that the general dirt protection used by building contractors is sufficient to protect ductwork from contamination, or that any contamination will be cleaned by the responsible party. This is rarely the case. The American College of Allergists have estimated that 50% of all illness is caused or aggravated by polluted indoor air, and it is thought that 1 out of 6 people with allergies suffer from them directly due to fungi and bacteria found in air ducts. Dust mites, E. coli, salmonella and more have been found in dirty air ducts and pose a potential health risk to anyone in the building.
Responsibility for BS 15780 compliance
Many organizations do not realize that the responsibility for BS 15780 is with the end user – regardless of who commissioned the building work, or contract cleaning. This means that if any employee has a medical issue that can be linked back to improper cleaning of air ducts, then the employer will have failed in their duty of care. A case for negligence could then potentially be brought, leading to fines or long and expensive court proceedings.
The Montreal Protocol and R22 compliance
The R22 legislation is another upcoming issue, with the The Montreal Protocol phasing out ozone depleting R22 HCFC refrigerant. It aims to reduce HCFC use by 90% by 2015.
HCFCs have been linked to thinning of the ozone, so reducing HCFC use is beneficial to the environment. As a replacement, R417A is being used across much of Europe. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) have given it an A1/A1 rating. It is non-hazardous and can be used with mineral, alkyl benzene or fully synthetic lubricants.
Air conditioning contingency planning
When R22 is phased out and maintenance is performed to comply with BS 15780, there is likely to be a significant period where air conditioning units are disabled. In a tightly regulated occupancy or during a period of hot weather, this could be potentially damaging to business processes and efficiency. Compromised air quality condition, which could be in breach ofHealth & Safety Executive Guidelines, lead to a loss of productivity and, ultimately, potential litigation.
One of the simplest ways to mitigate these risks is to always have a contingency plan in place. A good contingency plan would include ensuring that an employer is in contact with a specialist air conditioning hire company who can guarantee suitable equipment can be installed within an extremely short time frame.
By reviewing the British Standard and R22 legislation now and creating an appropriate action plan, employers can pre-empt any potential issues in the most cost effective and efficient way possible.
Stewart Owen, director at Andrews Sykes. Andrews Sykes is the UK’s largest specialist hire company and has been supplying offices and other workplaces with temporary air conditioning (http://www.andrews-sykes.com/air-conditioning/) for over 25 years.
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