Testing indoor air quality & Sick Building Syndrome

Testing Indoor Air Quality – Sick Building Syndrome Investigations

It probably comes as no surprise that most of us in Western Europe and North America spend around 90% of our time inside, whether at home or work. The air we breathe inside our buildings can have a huge effect on our general health and wellbeing. You’ve probably read about the issues surrounding indoor air quality and the phenomenon of Sick Building Syndrome or SBS. This is where people working or living in a certain space find that they develop a range of symptoms such as a cough, headaches, dizziness or fatigue and those symptoms tend to disappear when they leave that environment.

Does Sick Building Syndrome Really Exist?

Whether this phenomenon called Sick Building Syndrome actually exists or not is the subject of much debate, but it’s certainly true that if the air quality in your office, commercial property or other type of workplace is poor, you and colleagues are unlikely to perform at your best.

If your staff, customers or visitors have started to complain about a stuffy environment or you just think that the air quality in your home isn’t quite up to scratch, then the first step in resolving the problem is to measure or test the quality of the air inside your building.

What Can Affect Indoor Air Quality?

There is a huge range of factors which can affect the quality of the air taken into any residential or commercial space. An indoor air quality assessment will usually start by looking at a range of physical factors, issues such as the number of windows and where they are located, natural ventilation rates and other ways of getting air around the building such as mechanical air conditioning systems or fans.

Other issues affecting air quality might be very local; such as a building located on a very busy road with lots of traffic fumes, or one in a rural location that might experience issues with farm chemicals or odours on a seasonal basis.

The building itself and workplace activities might also contribute to possible air quality issues depending on the type of business, whether there are any manufacturing processes present and what products are being made there. Other influencing factors could include the cleaning products being used by maintenance staff, materials present inside the building such as carpets, curtains and furniture, and even the fabric of the building itself.

What About Radon, Mould & Other Indoor Air Pollutants?

In many situations, it’s not the obvious issues such as traffic pollution or an old-fashioned air conditioning system which you have to worry about in offices or other workplace environments. Sometimes the problems are caused by microscopic airborne pollutants such as dust particles, tiny compounds, spores and gasses. Some of the major causes of concern are:

  • Radon

    Radon is a colourless radioactive gas which occurs naturally in the environment. Radon is found all over the UK and levels of the gas inside buildings can sometimes be higher than those outside. High levels of radon can lead to increased risk of certain cancers. The South-West of England, Wales and parts of Northern England have higher levels of radon than other parts of the country.

  • Mould

    Mould and mould spores in the air can cause breathing difficulties, especially in those who have asthma and other chronic breathing conditions. Mould thrives in warm, damp environments, so is usually easily treated by preventing moisture ingress (fixing leaks and rising damp), improving ventilation, or adding dehumidifiers to dry out the atmosphere.

  • Carbon monoxide

    Carbon monoxide is a very dangerous gas which forms when fuels do not combust (burn) properly. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal, and is particularly an issue for homes and businesses with gas boilers, solid fuel burners and similar.

  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

    Volatile organic compounds are chemicals which are widely used in paints, preservatives, cleaning products and solvents. VOCs in the air can be a particular issue for certain industries and can cause irritation to the eyes, cause nausea, and in cases where people are exposed to high levels, they can cause damage to the liver and kidneys.

How Is Air Quality Tested?

If you have family members or employees complaining about Sick Building Syndrome or issues with the air in your home or workplace, then the first step is to have professional air quality testing carried out – you have to understand what the problems are, if any, before putting strategies in place to tackle those problems. Missing out this vital air quality investigation and assessment stage could result in you investing in strategies which do nothing to address the underlying problems… and leaving everyone disappointed.

Testing your indoor air quality doesn’t have to be complicated. Specialist companies like WTS provide comprehensive indoor air quality assessments, air testing and environmental monitoring solutions to BREEAM Health & Wellbeing Hea 02, dealing with indoor air quality.

As part of these specialist investigations WTS technicians may also review a number of key physical environmental parameters including mechanical ventilation and air conditioning systems, air velocity, temperature and relative humidity. They may also carry out laboratory analysis for bacteria, moulds and fungi; and where appropriate look at gas analysis and particle counts for carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide, formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dust and pollen. They will then issue a full report detailing what’s been found. You will then have the information you need to decide what investments you’ll need to make to improve air quality.

I’m An Employer, What Are My Responsibilities?

Of course it’s up to homeowners to decide for themselves whether they feel there is an issue with the quality of the air in their home… and they can choose to carry out testing or not.

UK employers on the other-hand have different obligations that are set out in law by the government, and underpinned by the following primary legislation:

  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – HSWA
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 – COSHH
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Under UK Health and Safety legislation, an employer has to take reasonable steps to protect the safety and health of the people working for them. An employer can’t sit back and wait for employees to raise concerns about indoor air quality and Sick Building Syndrome, a responsible employer should be proactive in this respect. Taking a look at the issue from another perspective – if you can provide a healthy workplace with good quality air for your workforce, you’re likely to see productivity increase and absenteeism decrease as a result.

Specialist Indoor Air Quality Solutions

Contact WTS today to find out more about our expert indoor air quality testing, monitoring and environmental evaluation solutions and how we can help improve workplace health and well-being, employee comfort, attendance and productivity issues. We can provide advice and full support to help you identify the most appropriate strategies for managing your indoor air quality issues.

With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained engineers, in-field air quality specialists and technical experts we can offer professional, cost effective indoor air quality testing and environmental support solutions across the whole of the UK and Ireland.

Further Reading…

More information about indoor air quality … here →

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Testing Indoor Air Quality - Investigating Sick Building Syndrome
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Testing Indoor Air Quality - Investigating Sick Building Syndrome
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Learn more about testing indoor air quality & Sick Building Syndrome, what can affect the air in your home, office or workplace. Learn what causes SBS & dangerous airborne pollutants like radon, mould, carbon monoxide & VOCs.
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Water Treatment Services
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