There’s more to be gained from making sure the places where we live and work have clean air than being able to tick regulatory boxes.

The importance of clean air to the UK is finally being recognised. A new clean air law is starting its passage through Parliament as a tribute to nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, who died from asthma induced by air pollution. The bill would establish a right to clean air, and set up a commission to oversee government actions and progress – but could more be done?

Poor air quality causes heart and lung diseases, is linked to low birth weight and children’s lung development, and may even contribute to mental health issues. The way the clean air problem can be tackled is clear: improving both outdoor and indoor air quality through a number of means. It might be surprising to know that we spend 90 per cent of our time in buildings. So, when much of the conversation focuses on improving outdoor air quality, indoor air quality (IAQ) cannot be ignored. Indoor air is sometimes five times more polluted than outdoor air, so even just ensuring clean air is being filtered in from outside buildings can be enough.

How can we improve our air quality? Control, improved ventilation, and clean air technology can all assist in improving both outdoor and indoor air quality. Among other changes, existing buildings must improve the quality of air through the installation of new controls. In new buildings, there must be regulations put in place to ensure that the air quality for the occupants is safe, efficient and healthy. Without clean air technology, particulate matter can invade our indoor spaces and cause health problems.

Air pollution should be considered as a decisive factor for all of us in choosing an area to live in and a place to work. To start delivering the change at the speed needed, we must look to the technologies that address the problem. To improve the air that we breathe every day, we need to use operational technology. Technologies exist that can capture 99.7 per cent of airborne pathogens, ensuring the air people breathe is safe.

Regulations around clean air need to be revised and drastically improved. Currently, the HSE Approved Code of Practice states fresh air flow should not fall below 5 to 8 litres of air per second per occupant, while CIBSE’s guidance suggests that buildings should have a ventilation rate of 10 litres per second per person. For the regulations to be effective, though, more needs to change than just the ventilation rate. Simply put, regulations are not strong enough and will put the health of your employees and the productivity of your business at risk. Businesses that truly want to get the best out of their employees and keep them healthy must set their own higher benchmark for clean air.

It’s great to tick the regulatory box, but we shouldn’t be waiting to be pushed to make these changes – there is added value in being more energy efficient and using smart technologies, particularly in the name of safety. One thing is for certain: to avoid falling short, clean air technology is a must.

While it’s a given that we must put safety first, how is clean air technology successfully implemented? To effectively exceed current clean air regulations, the technology used must be linked to an occupancy measuring solution and technology to measure air quality.

Occupancy management and measuring come down to two things. First, it’s about ensuring the maximum occupancy of rooms isn’t exceeded. This can be done effectively by introducing booking systems, which is particularly easy post-Covid due to a hybrid working environment. Secondly, it’s important to use technology that can constantly count how many people are in each room.

The data collected from occupancy-measuring technology can then be fed to the ventilation, filtration and disinfection technologies. So long as the maximum occupancy isn’t exceeded, you can then automatically adjust ventilation rates in the room, providing the optimum level of clean air for the number of occupants. This integrated approach ensures the system isn’t working at full throttle all day, helping to reduce costs and improve energy efficiency.

Investing in clean air technology means investing in people’s health. Not only do occupants benefit, but so do businesses – it’s a win/win. Improved indoor air quality not only holds huge health benefits, but also increases productivity within the workplace.

Integrated clean air technologies allow employees to focus and thrive in their respective environments, and businesses now have the opportunity to create an environment that’s sustainable, efficient, and healthy. Ultimately, air quality needs to be put firmly on the agenda, at all times.

Mark Bouldin is a clean air expert at Johnson Controls.

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