How Do You Improve Ventilation and Workplace Safety?
Ventilation is good while its lack is not. Never has the importance of ventilation been more apparent than with the COVID-19 pandemic. Ventilation is a system that ensures good airflow, specifically the influx of fresh air from outside and the removal of stagnant, contaminated air from inside. How Do You Improve Ventilation and Workplace Safety?
Improve Ventilation and Workplace Safety
It is crucial in ensuring a lower concentration of airborne viruses and bacteria, including the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes the severely infectious COVID-19 disease. This is why facility management practitioners need to use ventilation test equipment to ensure that their buildings or offices have good ventilation.
Back to the Office
Ensuring good airflow in offices and workplaces is particularly urgent now, post-COVID. With vaccination rates high and the latest in a series of coronavirus variants seemingly contained (at least for now), many businesses are requiring their employees to return to the office.
In a Chicago Booth Review article, Rebecca Stropoli mentions 88% of European executives disagree with the notion that remote work is as or more productive than working from the office.
If this is an indication of the current sentiment among business executives, it is likely that, once the ‘coast is clear’, a lot more businesses will be requiring their employees to work from the office at least some of the time instead of allowing them to work from home permanently.
However, as the omicron halting the initial exodus back to the office in 2021 so amply demonstrated, this pandemic is far from over. Indeed, the pandemic is likely endemic at this point. Thus, the key to controlling it or, at least, ensuring workplaces are safe is to keep indoor virus levels as low as possible — thus, the significance of workplace ventilation.
Facility Management Strategies for Improving Ventilation
Facility management integrates people, processes, place, and technology to ensure that the built environment (e.g., the office or building) is functional, comfortable, safe, and efficient. Facility managers are responsible for ensuring that workplaces have adequate ventilation to protect the people working in them from the ever-present threat of pathogens.
The following are the strategies they are using to improve ventilation in workplaces.
Compliance With Applicable Standards and Protocols
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 62.1 and 62.2 are the prevailing standards for ventilation and indoor air quality (IAQ). These standards specify the recommended minimum ventilation rates (among other indicators) that must be attained to minimize adverse health effects for a particular set of occupants in a specific environment.
According to the ANSI/ASHRAE 62.1 standard, acceptable air quality means the air must have no harmful concentrations of known contaminants, and at least 80% of people exposed to it must deem it satisfactory. Complying with these standards helps facility managers achieve acceptable indoor air quality.
Ventilation rate is computed as the volume of air supplied to the room in one hour divided by the room volume. Thus, ventilation rate is a measure of air changes per hour. Recommended airflow rates vary depending on building type, occupancy, use case, etc.
Evaluation and Assessment of the Building for Air Flow Deficiencies
Ideally, all buildings have fully functional and adequate ventilation systems. After all, ventilation systems should ideally be built into facilities during construction. Windows, doors, air ducts, wind towers, trickle ventilators, and other natural ventilation elements are typically integrated in building construction plans to encourage maximum air flow rates.
However, building occupancy types and densities can vary from what was initially intended for the building. An old school could be converted into an office building, and built-in ventilation systems may no longer be adequate or appropriate, given the building’s new use and occupancy. Thus, what constitutes adequate ventilation for a building can change.
Therefore, to assess the adequacy of existing ventilation systems, facilities managers must first evaluate the workplace and existing ventilation systems to identify current deficiencies.
Things to look out for include:
The occupation density may be higher than what the current ventilation system has been designed to handle. Additional windows, air-conditioning units, and exhaust equipment may have to be added to improve ventilation.
Number of Windows
Confined places without windows and no outdoor air sources must be improved.
Heat-producing equipment like cooking equipment or appliances that get hot with operation must be considered in planning and improving ventilation systems.
Use precise ventilation measuring tools and equipment.
Ventilation systems are set in place or established for facilities to be compliant with existing ventilation standards. However, ventilation equipment ages and degrades, occupation type may change, and other things may happen that could affect the effectiveness of existing ventilation systems.
Therefore, facilities management practitioners must have clear standard operating procedures for ventilation system testing. Regular testing will ensure that a facility’s ventilation remains adequate and the air quality continues to be acceptable, thus ensuring the health and safety of its occupants.
To this end, facilities managers need standard-compliant, precision measuring equipment.
Use embedded measuring systems.
There should also be systems to help facilities managers effortlessly but precisely monitor ventilation and air quality in the workplace. To this end, embedded sensors can help.
For instance, facilities managers can install sensors that actively and continuously monitor temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide concentration levels, and atmospheric pressure. Such sensors will help them gauge and monitor current indoor air quality.
These embedded systems are connected via Wi-Fi to a database that will collect their readings for analysis and run through a program that will sound an alert when indoor air quality deteriorates. This will allow facility managers to react and respond promptly.
They can also use people counting systems to actively monitor footfall data. Such systems can automatically alert them when occupation densities exceed recommended levels.
Establish and abide by set maintenance schedules and procedures.
Facilities managers must maintain their ventilation systems. Thus, they must have a preventive maintenance schedule for cleaning, lubricating, repairing, adjusting, and replacing ventilation and IAQ control systems, parts, and equipment.
Better yet, they can employ internet of things technology to transition to the more practical and efficient predictive maintenance framework.
In such cases, ventilation systems and their component devices will have a digital sensor that continuously sends data to a central database. Such a digital system will help them follow an algorithm-based maintenance schedule rather than a predetermined preventive maintenance schedule.
Ventilation and Workplace Safety
Ventilation and air quality are essential to people’s welfare, health, and safety. Facilities managers, therefore, need to ensure they have strategies and systems in place to maintain and improve airflow in the workplace effectively.
Francois Donnet is the Managing Director at Testo Middle East, a world market leader in the field of portable and stationary measurement solutions. The measurement technology company provides over 650,000 worldwide customers with highly precise measuring instruments and innovative solutions for measurement data management.