Every employee in the UK is legally entitled to a healthy working environment, including a clean air workspace. Under numerous acts of legislation, an ongoing supply of fresh oxygen is required so the health and wellbeing of staff isn’t compromised on a long-term basis.
Therefore, sufficient ventilation is not only required by law but must also must meet certain standards. As a rough guide, this article is aimed at building developers and employers to help them understand their legal duties when it comes to workplace ventilation.
To begin with, you should be familiar with the following acts as an employer in the UK:
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
- Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1999
- Workplace Regulations, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
Amongst various workplace requirements within these acts, you will find that the supply of oxygen and removal of carbon dioxide is an obligatory part of all of them. For enclosed rooms without a natural source of air, addressing this issue becomes even more important.
Types of Ventilation
Depending on your building, there are different ventilation methods that provide clean air. The presence of windows alone may be sufficient, but when this isn't the case, mechanised systems should be installed. If you’re relying on windows in your property, you’ll need to ensure they can be opened and closed as appropriate; Pratley & Partners have a great selection of manual window controls to help make hard-to-reach windows more accessible, as well as electric window controls which operate based on environmental factors, and can be linked to your fire alarm so that windows automatically open if smoke is detected.
In other cases, notably in factories, warehouses and large public buildings like schools and hospitals, natural ventilation solutions are needed to supplement the existing flow of air. Air must also be filtered and discharged to a safe place.
Natural Ventilation Solution
Utilising a natural ventilation source also comes with its own standards. For example, the air brought into the building can't contain engine exhaust emissions or oily, gassy smells. If the building is in a congested environment near to heavy traffic or smoky areas, incoming particles must be filtered sufficiently.
Understanding the principles of natural ventilation (both cross and single-sided) can help, likewise how changes in wind speed and the shape of your building can affect air flow. If this sounds too complex, a ventilation specialist will be able to explain during the planning stage.
If many or all of your employees are suffering from adverse health, this should be a clear warning that poor ventilation is the issue. If the problem persists without due action, you will be accountable as the employer. Mild symptoms such as tiredness, headaches, itchy skin and sore eyes are conspicuous signs, whilst the onset of coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath can lead to serious respiratory problems. Ensure these warning signs are acted upon quickly and ask how your employees feel about the air quality to make a more informed assessment.
An effective ventilation system can also be used to create an optimal temperature, both when too hot or too cold. Although there is more leniency around this issue, the Approved Code of Practice suggests a minimum temperature of at least 16°Cin a standard office environment, and 13°C or higher if the work involves rigorous physical effort.
With many people in the same vicinity, body odour can linger – notably in enclosed spaces with little air supply. Sufficient ventilation is needed to dilute and expel these unwanted natural smells. Likewise, buildings with kitchens and toilets near the work area may require additional air supply to subdue subsequent odours.
Under the 1992 Act, mechanical ventilation must be maintained to a working level. You must carry out regular checks and repairs if necessary. As a general rule, if your finger collects dust along the duct opening then it will need cleaning. The Act also decrees that in any workplace containing contaminants linked to ill health, the system must include a visible or audible alarm to warn of a failure.
When it comes to ventilation, employers should take action where necessary and reasonably practical. All our natural ventilation systems are installed so they meet the required safety standards, leaving you with one less issue to worry about. Feel free to contact our team today who’ll be happy to be of assistance.
As an employer, you also need to ensure your staff’s safety with regular fire drills; check out our tips to help your fire drills run smoothly every time.