Improve indoor air quality in the workplace
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the working practices of millions of people around the world overnight. For many people, working from home has become routine for several months. Meanwhile, those who have continued in their workplace have had to follow new working practices and procedures aimed at preventing the transmission of infection.
Anyone returning to their workplace including educational institutions, cafés, restaurants and shops will be nervous about contracting the coronavirus when they come into closer contact with other people in public areas. Everyone is aware of the risks of infection from airborne particles and the guidelines for social distancing.
Keeping a set distance apart, however, may not be enough to prevent contaminated particles transferring from infected people to others. Research has shown that the smallest particles is able to travel further and remain airborne for much longer that we have thought.
This means air hygiene is a crucial factor in protecting people in the workplace. This also includes stepping up business measure to prevent transmission of COVID-19 in other indoor environment. It is also important for employees to see that their air quality is being improved. In an international survey of office workers commissioned by Rentokil Initial in March 2020, over two-thirds of survey respondents said they would feel cared for by their employer if their employers regulate indoor air quality in their work environment.
How airborne particles can spread diseases
Virus containing respiratory particles transmit respiratory infections such as COVID-19. These are often classified by researchers into droplets (>5–15μm) and aerosols (<5–15μm) – an arbitrary classification to differentiate from those that quickly fall to the ground and the lighter ones that can float in the air for long periods.
Infected people exhale particles in continuum sizes during breathing, talking, coughing, sneezing – and even singing. Both the droplets and aerosol particles composed of mucus and saliva. They are made airborne by the air passing over infected tissue throughout the respiratory system.
The majority of droplets are thought to fall out of the air and onto a surface within 1–2m from the infected person. Guidelines from WHO and governments still recommend keeping these distances in places where people interact. In addition to distancing, surface and hand hygiene are crucial to prevent cross-contamination from these droplets. How can businesses offer their staff protection from the lighter aerosols that are floating in the air?
How turbulent gas clouds transmit viruses over long distances
The recommendations for social distancing is based on a 1930s model of droplet transmission and the distance the droplets travel. Scientist who study and model gas clouds, however, have shown that a large proportion of the transmission of COVID-19 could be caused by airborne transmission via aerosols produced during breathing, speaking, sneezing and coughing.
Aerosols can accumulate in enclosed places and remain airborne and infectious for several hours. Due to their tiny size (<10μm), they can be inhaled deep into the lungs. This makes it essential that businesses consider this means of transmission when implementing safety measures in their workplace.
A gas cloud traps and carries with it clusters of droplets with a continuum of sizes. The warm and moist conditions in the cloud, together with the turbulence, allow the droplets of all sizes to remain airborne for longer and travel several metres farther (7–8m) than the social distancing guidelines.
A proportion fall out as the cloud travel while others shrink as they evaporate and float in the air for hours, following the air flow in the room. The faster and more turbulent the cloud – such as from a cough or sneeze – the farther all the droplets travel.
Dr Gail Aitken, FRSPH, Head of Consumable Product Development, Rentokil Initial commented, “Propulsion, such as sneezes and coughs, helps eject these viruses back into the air. Because these droplets are small, they can be carried on air currents and can remain airborne for considerable periods of time, depending on air traffic and flow, temperature and humidity.”
In many work environments, there is no way to bring in fresh air, so the most practical way for businesses to remove these from the air is with air purification using filters.
Indoor transmission of COVID-19
Aside from the scientific basis for viral transmission, there are real-life examples that demonstrate the critical part airflow and aerosols play in air hygiene. An infected person sitting at a table in a room infected five other people on two adjacent tables. The three tables were at one end of the room in the airflow from an air conditioning unit on the wall. None of the customers at tables in the other part of the room in different airflows, nor restaurant staff, was infected.
A follow-up study that measured dispersion of tracer gas in the same part of the restaurant and made computer simulations of the spread of aerosols, concluded that the infection was “consistent with a spread pattern of virus-laden aerosols”.
There is rapidly increasing evidence for airborne transmission of COVID-19, as reported above. This means air hygiene around spaces where people are together for long periods is an essential component of air safety measures in indoor spaces. These spaces include offices, shops, restaurants, classrooms and public transport. Air purification is therefore critical to protect your users and employees’ safety.
Bearing in mind that many of us spend 90% of our time indoors, in the current climate, employees are looking for reassurances that it is safe to return to an enclosed environment for long periods.
Employers should, therefore, make sure their indoor air quality (IAQ) is hygienic and of a high standard. This prevents transmission of airborne infections via aerosols and respiratory droplets to maintain people’s health and wellbeing.
Strategies for improving air quality
There are several strategies for facilities managers to improve health and wellbeing in buildings. They include planning infection prevention, preparedness, resilience and recovery. The primary factors for infection prevention consist of:
- Good cleaning protocols
- Supporting and promoting hand hygiene
- Improving air quality by providing adequate ventilation and filtration
The strategy for air quality includes the following measures.
- Air filtration: Implement a suitable air filtration system and maintain filters properly.
- Ventilation: Bring in fresh air from outdoors to dilute human and product-generated air pollutants. Provide demand-control ventilation, displacement ventilation and advanced air distribution
- Openable windows: Provide windows that can open and encourage staff to open them when outdoor air quality is acceptable
- Microbe and mould control: Treat the air with ultraviolet light to kill microorganisms
- Moisture management: Limit moisture accumulation and mould growth by preventing water infiltration and condensation by using suitable design strategies
- Humidity control: Maintain humidity at levels that limit the growth of pathogens and are conducive to health and wellbeing.
Many modern and commercial buildings do not have windows that can open or kept shut to maintain temperature and humidity. HVAC systems are not effective at filtering pollution generated in the indoor environment. Therefore, a filtered HVAC system combined with air purifiers placed in the room can be the most practical solution for businesses to ensure air hygiene. Find out if your current indoor air solution fulfils adequate protection and safety for your employees with Initial Hygiene.
Why air hygiene matters
The spread of COVID-19 begins with infected respiratory particles. Filtering pathogens that contains bacteria and viruses from the air is seen by employers and staff as a reassuring and necessary first step to prevent infection. Above all, to reduce ill health, absenteeism, and keep those safe at work.
Firstly, you can improve indoor air quality (IAQ) by installing mobile air purifier devices in the workplace. Secondly, these can be placed in strategic positions of indoor spaces to yield optimal results for cleaner ‘local’ air. For example, in offices, schools, hotels, care homes and healthcare institutions. Thirdly, they are also a visual and reassuring indicator for staff. This gives a perception that their employer considers air quality important for their protection. Finally, it provides peace of mind from the monitoring and display of the IAQ around them.
The air purification devices provide businesses with a flexible option for filtering over 99.95% of harmful airborne particulates. These includes aerosols contaminated with bacteria and viruses from people’s respiratory systems. HEPA 13 and carbon filters also capture gaseous pollutants, mould spores, allergens, smoke particles and VOCs. A badly maintained filter can cause various health problems due to circulating of contaminated air particles. Find out more about the new and innovative Initial InspireAir solutions today.
In choosing an air purifier for the work environment, there are five critical factors to consider:
- How efficient are the filters of the device?
- Does it have a high clean air delivery rate (CADR)?
- Is there an option for a service to maintain the filters safely?
- Is it cost-effective?
Contact Initial Singapore your washroom hygiene specialist at (65) 6347 8138 for more recommendations on professional air hygiene.