An Introductory Guide to Ventilation in the Workplace

When we talk about ventilation, we refer to the provision of oxygen and the removal of carbon dioxide and airborne particulates through the circulation of fresh or purified air. This can be by way of natural means, such as open windows, or through a process such as mechanical heat recovery ventilation or air conditioning. 

The method you use will be entirely dependent on the nature of your business. But in all cases it’s vital to pay attention to the ventilation needs of your building and its inhabitants, because failure to do so can have damaging effects. 

Why is Ventilation Important in the Workplace?

The events of the past couple of years have served to highlight the importance of good ventilation in enclosed spaces, but the relationship between indoor air quality and health has long been established.

Without proper ventilation, carbon dioxide levels rise, and fine aerosol particles - expelled through breathing, talking, coughing and sneezing - linger in the air to be breathed in. Other contaminants also remain present, such as those produced as part of a process in commercial and industrial settings. 

This can lead to a number of adverse effects, including:

  • Headaches
  • Respiratory problems
  • Allergies
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Fatigue
  • And of course, the spread of airborne viruses like COVID-19

In short, ventilation is important because a lack of it can have wide ranging health implications for the workforce. In addition, proper ventilation is required to remove unpleasant odours, prevent damaging condensation and moisture build up, and to help maintain a comfortable working environment.  

What Are The Legal Requirements for Workplace Ventilation? 

Ventilation in the workplace is covered by the Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992.

These regulations simply state that workplaces need to be ‘adequately ventilated’, in so much as fresh, uncontaminated air must be drawn from outside the workplace and circulated throughout appropriate spaces within the building. They also state that air movement should give ‘a sense of freshness without causing a draught’.

Where mechanical ventilation systems are installed, it is also a requirement that they are kept in good working order through regular maintenance.

A couple of other regulations to be aware of with regards to workplace ventilation:

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1999 state that employers must minimise exposure to harmful substances through suitable means, including appropriate ventilation.

The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 state that as an employer, you must make information on ventilation available to your employees. 

What is Adequate Ventilation?

This is a hard one to define. In some cases, adequate ventilation may be achieved simply by opening windows, but in buildings where process, heating or heat emitting equipment is present, a mechanical means of ventilation is usually required. The quantity of ventilation needed also depends on several factors, including:

  • The size and layout of the space
  • How many people typically occupy the space
  • What the space is used for
  • Any heat sources, sources of pollutants and sources of humidity that exist in the space

You may have heard the term ‘air changes per hour’ (ACH). This refers to the rate at which air is recirculated within a given space in a 60 minute time frame. Recommended air changes per hour vary according to all of the above, with typical applications ranging between 5 and 15 ACH. 

To ensure you provide a healthy environment for your workforce, it’s important to seek the advice of a professional contractor and invest in a well designed ventilation system. At Loughborough Air Conditioning, we have years of experience in the design, installation and maintenance of systems for a wide range of applications, and are happy to visit your premises for a no obligation consultation. 

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