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Despite all the recent fuss from our colleagues in the air-handling press over indoor air quality (IAQ), Head of Gibbons Ultraviolet Solutions Colin Hardman asks whether things have really changed at all over the years.

A recently-published joint study from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health found that indoor air pollution caused, or contributed to, an estimated 99,000 deaths across Europe during 2012.

Meanwhile, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has stated in its epidemiological report on communicable diseases in Europe that the continent’s four million cases of healthcare acquired infections (HAIs) every year are caused by poor hygiene – 37,000 of which are fatal. HAIs force patients to spend an extra 16 million extra days in hospital annually, the cost of which stands at an estimated €7 billion.

Of course, not all four million cases can be attributed to indoor air pollution. However, it’s clear that improving IAQ in hospitals and other healthcare institutions would have a significant impact on patients’ wellbeing and comfort while reducing pressure on the NHS.

The illusion of introducing so-called fresh air into a building to improve IAQ is over as we are now all well aware that outdoor air is extremely polluted with bacteria, mould, viruses, yeast and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It’s also clear that the ingress of this contaminated air into buildings via HVAC systems is causing harm to building occupants in the form of sick building syndrome. But are filters being changed often enough? Is ductwork regularly cleaned? Often the answer is no.

Part of the problem is that the performance of facilities managers is often measured in energy savings rather than focussing on the health, wellbeing and productivity of the people within the building. There’s always a budget for energy saving, but how often is there one for health? For example, adopting the WELL Building Standard allows the health and wellbeing of the public to be a core element in the design and construction of buildings, but many organisations are not prepared to commit the finance to support such projects.

What makes this even more disappointing is that proven and validated 24/7 cleaning solutions exist in the shape of ultraviolet-C (UVC) disinfection systems. But this isn’t news. UVC has been used since the early 19thcentury to kill the microorganisms that cause bacteria, mould, yeast and viruses and was instrumental in the control and eradication of tuberculosis (TB) in the 1950s.

Today, many countries throughout the world mandate ultraviolet devices in their hospitals and government buildings. When will the UK follow this good practice?

Advancements in UVC technology are becoming ever more sophisticated, yet this low-cost, easily-retrofitted, chemical-free solution has still not been utilised to its full potential in the commercial building sector.

Increasing demand for HVAC systems within commercial buildings, healthcare facilities, education centres and other occupied spaces means that more people will be at risk unless action is taken.

Ultraviolet technology for HVAC systems offers a cost-effective win-win solution, often delivering a payback within 24 months. These solutions not only improve IAQ but also enhance the performance of cooling coils and HVAC components, delivering proven energy savings.

The time for talking is over. Let’s actively respond to the IAQ problem before it becomes a crisis. Protect your most valuable asset – your staff – and bring a breath of fresh air to your building.