Much more work is needed to publicise the impact of poor indoor air quality and airborne pollutants on public health – particularly as Covid-19 forces ventilation into the public spotlight.
This was one of the key conclusions from the second part of this year’s H&V News Future of HVAC Summit that was held online on 24 September. The morning event was focused on IAQ and how changes around system specification and legislation were needed to ensure buildings not only limit the risk of infection from Covid-19, but also hazardous pollutants from sources such as kitchens and external traffic.
Nathan Wood, chair of BESA’s Health and Wellbeing in Buildings Group, said that the ventilation and IAQ industry needed to be held to the same work and safety standards as electricians and gas fitters by the public and legislators.
He said it should become common practice for building owners and occupiers to ask for proof of competence from engineers responsible for air handling and ventilation functions in a building.
While competence schemes for ventilation specialists do exist, Mr Wood argued that the entire sector’s work needed to be underpinned by statutory regulations and standards to ensure buildings were fit for occupants to breathe in, whether a home, workplace or a classroom.
He said, “So yes, there is some fantastic guides coming from the HVAC industry; from BESA, from CIBSE, from REHVA, which will give guidance. But without statutory regulations, the HVAC industry and manufacturer won’t start to develop new technologies. They won’t invest in R&D to push forward and scope out new systems.”
During last year’s Future of HVAC Summit, our audience heard how findings published by the Royal College of Physicians in 2018 had warned that thousands of deaths a year in the UK alone should be attributed to poor air quality. High-profile campaigns are currently underway for air quality to be recognised as a cause of death in specific cases.
However, panellists at this year’s event noted that the invisible nature of harmful pollutants in the air had continued to make it hard for the public to understand the tangible health threats facing occupants of all ages.
Mr Wood stressed that these issues about how buildings are designed to ensure cleaner, safer air preceded the Covid-19 pandemic, yet now the issue was even more critical, given the possible risks of airborne infection from poorly ventilated rooms and buildings.
The UK government has in recent years lost multiple court cases for failing to implement adequate limits on outdoor air pollution, Mr Wood said. At the same time, vital limits regarding indoor air quality have not been enshrined within the UK Environment Bill.
A range of industry bodies in the HVAC sector were in response now pushing, along with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings, for legal limits to be enshrined in UK law, he said.
Mr Wood said that regulation was urgently needed to drive industry as a whole not to value-engineer out vital ventilation and air quality functions in buildings, in order to prioritise fire safety or other safety issues.
He said that the HVAC sector must look beyond current 'mere compliance' with current regulations but instead to lead on innovation and design in IAQ.
A standard to define a building’s ability to remove viruses and infection was just one of the approaches Mr Wood noted was currently being mooted. He added that it was time for HVAC specialists to lead on 'rethinking best practice'.
Mr Wood said, “It’s time for us to take a leap of faith into our own technologies and systems, look at the smaller start-up companies and see what they are doing; implement smart technologies and affordable technologies – and then we might be heading in the right direction. A year ago, I said pretty much the same thing, and now we are here in the midst of a viral pandemic and it’s killing the economy. It’s down to us to push forward and make change beyond compliance.”
You can watch the full IAQ programme of this year's Future of HVAC Summit below. A more in-depth look at both days of this year's summit will be included in November's H&V New Magazine.