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Survey of Office Air Reveals Increased Risk of Ill Health and Absenteeism

An in-depth survey undertaken by specialist consultancy Allergy Standards Consulting of air quality in ten office buildings in Ireland which reported complaints of ill health by occupants, has revealed that eight out of ten of the premises had inadequate levels of ventilation which caused a build up of contaminants in the air and increased ill health and absenteeism among employees.

IrishDailyStar2910-2009The buildings which had an aggregate workforce of 1,500 employees and were surveyed in response to concerns of occupant ill health, showed that in the majority of cases adequate ventilation levels were not being provided either through natural ventilation or mechanical ventilation systems which was leading to a rise in carbon dioxide levels and subsequent building occupant symptoms such as headaches, nausea and fatigue.

The results also concluded that in some cases the primary source of indoor air contamination was due to biological contamination of the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system. These biological agents included bacteria, moulds and dust mites.

The health friendly air division of Allergy Standards Consulting provides specialist indoor environmental testing services. The programme entails taking air samples from buildings which are analysed in their Dublin laboratory and interpreted by a multidisciplinary team of doctors, occupational hygienists, occupational health advisers and scientists.

During the building survey investigations, Allergy Standards Consulting found that poor Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system design is playing a significant part in indoor air problems. The survey found that in one building fresh air intakes were located adjacent to the building exhaust outlet and in another case, the fresh air intake was located beside a smoking area. In both these cases, contaminants were entering the building with outdoor air thus causing symptoms of ill health for building occupants.

The combination of water at the bottom of HVAC ducts, elevated induct relative humidity, together with dust to provide nutrients can provide the ideal conditions for microbial growth. Once this occurs the same HVAC system that should distribute conditioned air throughout a building then distributes these biological contaminants into the building.

IrishExaminer2910-2009A recent international systematic review of studies by a multidisciplinary panel comprising medical and engineering experts in the fields of microbiology, medicine, epidemiology, indoor air quality, and building ventilation found that there is strong and sufficient evidence to demonstrate the association between ventilation, air movements in buildings and the transmission/spread of infectious diseases such as influenza. With the HSE expecting an increase in the number of cases of swine flu towards the end of October and early in November and with 30% of the population expected to get ill over a 6 to 8 week period, employers should ensure proper ventilation of their facilities.

Ventilation plays a fundamental role in maintaining good indoor air quality and Safety, Health and Welfare at Work legislation states that sufficient fresh air must be provided in enclosed places of work.

"The health effects of biologically contaminated air are well documented and accepted by international experts. Repeated exposure to organic materials of bacterial or fungal origin is relevant to health issues such as asthma and rhinitis, mucosal complaints and allergic alveolitis. Increased exposure is also likely to result in a greater incidence of absenteeism amongst employees", said Caitriona O' Donovan, Programme Manager and Occupational Health Adviser with Allergy Standards Consulting.

"Employees have a legislated right not to be exposed to hazards in the workplace that may lead to acute or chronic, long-term health problems. So carrying out an indoor air audit should play a key role in the protection of employees' health whilst also addressing the liability risk associated with employee ill health as a result of indoor air", added O'Donovan.

Health Friendly Air Surveys undertaken by Allergy Standards Consulting include a comprehensive visual inspection of the HVAC system, measurements of ventilation rates, examination of air filters and air ducts for possible signs of contamination and sample collection for laboratory testing for signs of possible microbial contamination.

 

Hugely Successful International Healthy Buildings Conference 2009

health friendly air is just back from a hugely successful international conference on healthy buildings and indoor environment, Healthy Buildings 2009 in Syracuse, New York. The conference was attended by a multidisciplinary mix of over 800 scientists, policy makers, clinicians, industry leaders and practitioners and hosted the presentation of over 500 research papers. The major topics of discussion were indoor environmental quality, performance & productivity, health, indoor contaminants and design & assessment. There was an interesting emphasis on the key role that bioaerosols such as mould and allergens play in indoor air quality and building occupant health with agreement that there is a need for international agreement on the best sampling approach and guidelines for appropriate indoor levels. To this a conference focusing on bioaerosols will take place in NY next Sept. 2010.

   

Congratulations to our new Licentiate member of the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS)

Ruairi Ward, lead Occupational Hygienist for the health friendly air programme has become a holder of the British Occupational Hygiene Society's Certificate of Operational Competence in Occupational Hygiene and is now eligible to become a member of the Faculty of Licentiate grade (LFOH). With approximately 1300 members, BOHS is the biggest occupational hygiene society in Europe and has developed into a learned society of international renown. Ruairi will now be listed in the BOHS published "Directory of Occupational Hygiene Consultants".
   

Healthy Buildings 2009 Registration is Open!

Indoor air has been ranked as one of the top five environmental risks to public health. In response to this growing issue registration has begun for ISIAQ's signature conference, bringing together 1,000 to 1,500 professionals from around the world to discuss built environments and how to make them healthier, more productive, and more sustainable places to live, work, and learn.

This international meeting, will provide a forum for exchange of leading research and technology developments, a unique opportunity to share information on innovative products and services, and an extraordinary venue to network with national and global leaders and professionals in the fields of indoor air quality and healthy built environments.

To register for Healthy Buildings 2009 please go to http://www.hb2009.org/home

   

health friendly air business grows with economic downturn

WeekendReviewApr09The number of employees who are experiencing health issues from the indoor air they breathe appears to be growing during the economic downturn. The health friendly air programme which tests indoor breathing environments in homes and business has experienced an unexpected upturn courtesy of the economic downturn.

As workers suffer rising stress over redundancies, pay-cuts, and tax hikes, diseases of the respiratory system and allergic reactions are flaring. In a large number of cases, we are finding that an increase in indoor pollutants is being caused by poorly operated and maintained heating and air conditioning units.

   

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HFA on About The House

video_icon Watch the HFA team carry out an indoor air survey on RTE’s About The House

HFA on RTE Drivetime

audio_iconListen to health friendly air programme founder, Dr Bruce Mitchell, being interviewed on RTÉ about indoor air issues in offices.