The Importance of clean air and how to ventilate a room

Ensuring an adequate clean air supply in the workplace can be achieved through a range of measures, which we will discuss. However, this does not cover the removal of harmful substances from the air such as welding fumes and dust generated by processes. For these, specialist regulations apply – it is best to refer to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) to find out what you have to do. 

The Importance of Proper Ventilation  

Proper ventilation is also critical for maintaining good indoor air quality. Poor ventilation can lead to a build-up of pollutants, including mould, bacteria and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This can lead to a range of health problems, including headaches, fatigue and respiratory issues.  

A well-designed workplace ventilation system should have a range of measures, including air filters, exhaust fans and natural ventilation. It is also important to regularly inspect and maintain the ventilation system to ensure it is working properly.  

How to ventilate a room 

For many workplaces, ventilation issues may arise with a single room or workspace.  

The first thing that needs to be done when considering ventilating a room is to pinpoint areas with insufficient ventilation. There are a few straightforward measures that can be taken.  

  • Start by identifying spots without any natural or mechanical ventilation.  
  • If an air conditioning or ventilation system lacks an outdoor air source or recirculates air, it is probable that the space is poorly ventilated.  
  • Unpleasant odours or stuffiness in certain areas are clear indications of inadequate natural ventilation.  
  • To monitor ventilation levels, CO2 detectors can be employed. They are most effective in areas with consistent occupancy and less effective in sparsely populated spaces.  
  • Talk with your workers – this will help you assess the risk and put in effective measures to improve ventilation. 

Steps to take to improve ventilation  

Once the preliminary assessment has been made, there are a few simple steps that can be taken to improve ventilation in a room or workspace.   

  • While open windows and vents are a great way to achieve natural ventilation, it is essential to remember not to prop open fire doors.  
  • When a space is fully occupied, doors and windows should not be completely shut, as it can decrease ventilation levels, posing a health risk to those present.  
  • When it is hot outside, it is a good idea to keep windows and doors closed during the daytime, as the hot external air would come into the building, warming it up. However, after sunset, the outside air usually starts to cool down.  
  • As temperatures drop and winds pick up, natural ventilation through openings is likely to increase. Opening windows and doors will raise the room temperature, creating a more comfortable workspace. To minimise draughts, windows at higher levels should be opened wider.  
  • Frequent airing of rooms is critical for optimal ventilation. Opening all doors and windows widely will generally increase air quality, but it is best to do so when the space is unoccupied.  

Desk or ceiling fans 

You should not rely purely on desk or ceiling fans in poorly ventilated areas. They will not improve the level of fresh air, but will circulate the air already in that space, giving the illusion that ventilation is taking place, when in fact it is not. 

The Benefits of Clean Air and Ventilation

There are numerous benefits to clean air and proper ventilation. These include:  

  • Improved health: clean air and proper ventilation can help reduce the risk of respiratory problems, allergies and other health issues.  
  • Increased productivity: Studies have shown that good indoor air quality in a workplace can improve productivity and reduce absenteeism.  
  • Energy savings: a well-designed ventilation system can help reduce energy consumption and lower heating and cooling costs.  
  • Improved comfort: proper ventilation can help regulate indoor temperatures and humidity levels, improving comfort levels for occupants.  
  • Environmental benefits: clean air and proper ventilation can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainable living.  

HVAC and mechanical ventilation  

HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning), commonly referred to as mechanical ventilation, is a system that introduces fresh air to a building and heats it if necessary.  

Most mechanical ventilation can still operate normally, but it should be adjusted to maximise fresh air and recirculate as little air as possible. If feasible, it should be set to operate before and after work areas are used.  

A recirculation system can be used without drawing in fresh air, provided windows and doors are left open to bring outdoor air into the workspace.  

If a mechanical system supplies fresh air to individual rooms, higher amounts of fresh air can be provided, and this should be maintained.  

Employers must not neglect the servicing schedule and ensure that a reputable and reliable technician services the system in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.  

What the law says  

Under Regulation 6 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, employers must ‘ensure that every enclosed workplace is ventilated by a sufficient quantity of fresh or purified air’.  

As part of your legal duty to provide sufficient fresh air, your workplace risk assessment should identify poorly ventilated work areas.  

HSE’s Approved Code of Practice and guidance (PDF) states that ‘the fresh-air supply rate should not normally fall below 5 to 8 litres per second, per occupant.’ A value of 10 litres per second per person is recommended in some building guides as a suitable value for most commercial buildings. ACOPs are approved by the Health and Safety Executive, with the consent of the Secretary of State. It gives practical advice on how to comply with the law. If you follow the advice, you will be doing enough to comply with the law in respect of those specific matters on which the Code gives advice. You may use alternative methods to those set out in the Code to comply with the law. 

However, the Code has a special legal status. If you are prosecuted for a breach of health and safety law, and it is proved that you did not follow the relevant provisions of the Code, you will need to show that you have complied with the law in some other way or a Court will find you at fault.