How Can You Protect Workers from Indoor Air Pollution?

image showing how indoor air pollution caused by the microdroplets containing virus particles can be dispersed with adequate ventilation.

Firstly, let’s consider the WHO’s definition of air pollution:

“Contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere”

On 19 July, the government lifted the majority of restrictions imposed to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, including the directive to work at home wherever possible. However, the government has recommended a gradual return to work, allowing employers to put plans and systems in place that will keep their workforce safe.

The Working Safely guidance, published on 14 July, emphasises employers’ legal duty to assess and manage risks that could affect people who interact with their business. And according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), maintaining an adequate supply of fresh air (ventilation) should be a key part of any organisation’s health and safety/return to work strategy.

Your Legal Responsibilities as an Employer

The legal duty to supply a fresh air supply in the workplace is nothing new. Regulation 6 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that:

“Effective and suitable provision shall be made to ensure that every enclosed workplace is ventilated by a sufficient quantity of fresh or purified air”.

In addition, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations require employers to control all substances that may pose a hazard to health, which includes those that may be inhaled by workers or other people visiting the workplace.

Regular air quality testing should be implemented and action must be taken if the levels fall below acceptable levels.

Ventilation and Air Conditioning During the Pandemic

Although the requirement for employers to safeguard against harm caused by indoor air pollution is not new, the HSE has stressed the importance of adequate ventilation during the coronavirus pandemic.

This can be achieved by:

  • Natural ventilation —  “passive airflow” comes through open windows and doors
  • Mechanical ventilation —  fans and air ducts draw fresh air in from outside

The government has also released guidance on “ventilation of indoor spaces to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19)”  which warns that in poorly ventilated rooms the virus can build-up, increasing the risk of transmission. The virus can also remain in the air after an infected person has left the room. Regularly replacing older stale air with fresh air (ventilation) can reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

Check out the video below from the HSE on how to ensure adequate ventilation in indoor spaces.

Is Your Ventilation System Adequate?

If you can say “yes” to the following questions, you’re doing a great job ventilating the workplace and keeping people safe:

  • Does the premises have windows that can be opened?
  • Is your mechanical ventilation system regularly checked to ensure it is working correctly?
  • Do you limit the number of people in a room to those specified in the building design?
  • Does the workplace have a fresh air supply that meets the minimum building standard? (Consult a qualified ventilation engineer)

These are general guidelines. You should also consult the COVID-specific guidance from the HSE and the government to ensure that you are doing all you can to prevent the virus from spreading, including assessing the risk of aerosol transmission.

How to Reduce the Risk of Indoor Air Pollution

In addition to COVID-specific precautions, employers must protect people who interact with their business from harm due to dust, dirt, gases or any hazardous substances in the air. Indoor air pollution is often a key contributor to sick building syndrome —  the name for symptoms you get while you’re in a specific building. This syndrome can cost a business thousands of pounds in lost productivity, sickness absence and the costs associated with a high staff turnover. According to The Lancet, pollution in the workplace has been linked to 800,000 deaths globally.

Inadequate ventilation is one of the primary causes of low-quality air in the workplace. Follow the steps outlined above to ensure an adequate supply of fresh air. You can also protect people from the harmful effect of indoor air pollution by:

  • Considering optimum ventilation when designing new buildings
  • Investing in advanced heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HEPA) systems that clean air pollutants
  • Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) where necessary along with appropriate training, for example, asbestos awareness
  • Reminding staff to wash their hands and ensure that the workplace is cleaned regularly to prevent the build-up of allergens and bioaerosols (produced by coughing, sneezing, speaking etc.)

Contact Howlett Health and Safety Services to find out how we can help you assess and manage risks in your workplace. We offer online COSHH Awareness Training, Asbestos Awareness Training and many more courses. We can also help you to conduct risk assessments and develop a robust health and safety policy that will help you to keep your people safe.

Request your free 15-minute consultation today.


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