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.