News analysis with BESA

People should expect their buildings to be ‘safe havens’

The re-opening of many buildings in the wake of ‘Freedom Day’ has ramped up the pressure on the building services industry to make sure indoor spaces are safe, healthy, and productive


s the country was ‘unlocking’, both the UK’s chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance and the British Medical Association (BMA) called for more expert guidance and better standards of building ventilation and indoor air quality (IAQ) to help the country navigate the coming months. The BMA, which represents all UK doctors, says

setting legal standards for ventilation, should be part of the government’s strategy for dealing with the next stage of the pandemic. It added that financial support for businesses and educational settings should be made available “to implement these requirements ahead of the autumn and winter period, when respiratory viruses spread more easily and buildings must be kept warm, limiting options for natural ventilation”. The urgent need for independent practical advice

prompted BESA to quickly produce a concise guide to good practice: ‘Indoor Air Quality for Health & Well- Being’, designed to help building owners, managers and engineers interpret IAQ data and turn it into useful strategies for improving the indoor environment. The guidance, which is part of the Association’s

wider Buildings as Safe Havens (BASH) campaign, sets out target limits for a range of airborne contaminants in a variety of indoor spaces. It explains how air quality data gathered during specialist surveys or from the wide range of low cost real- time and continuous IAQ monitoring devices, can be interpreted and acted upon.


The advice it provides is also based on the experience of practitioners in the field who see what is possible and achievable in the real world. It is designed as a follow-up to the BESA publication H&W001: A Beginners Guide to Indoor Air Quality published in March in collaboration with Mitsubishi Electric. Both guides are free to download at: Public Health England estimates the annual death

toll in the UK from air pollution at between 24,000 and 36,000 with associated healthcare costs as high as £20bn. The role played by indoor air both in transmission of disease and the general health and wellbeing of building occupants became headline news during the pandemic and has prompted unprecedented interest in how buildings are ventilated.

A report commissioned by Sir Patrick highlighted the importance of building ventilation in reducing the risk

of COVID-19 and other infections. It was published by the National Engineering Policy Centre (NEPC), which is a group of 43 professional engineering organisations representing 450,000 engineers. It found that ventilation was often neglected, and that the Covid-19 crisis had revealed flaws in the design, management, and operation of buildings. It advised Sir Patrick that, unless these flaws were addressed, they could disrupt the management of this and future pandemics and impose high financial and health costs on society. Nathan Wood, chair of the BESA Health & Wellbeing in Buildings group, said this was a significant moment for anyone working to improve the indoor environment. “The very fact that such a senior adviser is taking a

close interest in how the engineering profession can be deployed to tackle a health and wellbeing issue shows just how high this has risen up the political agenda,” he said. “People now need reassurance that buildings are

being adequately ventilated, and the air monitored to minimise the threat from contaminants and viruses. This new BESA Guide aims to do just that, but it also goes further. “Rather than purely focusing on preventing

infection and death, which is often the approach of academic and regulatory work, it also promotes a positive approach to setting IAQ standards that will give people a healthier, more comfortable, and more productive experience inside buildings.” He pointed to research carried out by Harvard

University in the US that showed a 61% improvement in cognitive function for students in a well-ventilated, clean environment. “The outdoor, ambient air pollution guidance

levels adopted by governments are usually based on mortality and morbidity, tempered by what is regarded as economically feasible. That compromise reduces investment in the health and wellbeing benefits,” added Wood. “By contrast, a health and wellbeing approach considers how good IAQ can improve productivity and enjoyment of a space and supports the principle that people should be able to inhabit ‘safe havens’ where the indoor air is better than the polluted outdoors. Unfortunately, in too many cases, the opposite is currently true.” The BESA Guide refers to established guidelines including those provided by the World Health

Organisation (WHO), which are due to be updated later this year. It also signposts other sources of authoritative advice on volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide/oxides, ozone, radon, and airborne micro-organisms.


It also recommends monitoring CO2 and a range of IAQ factors to balance good air quality with reduction of internally and externally sourced contaminants. Its guidance will also be offered to the BSI to help shape the draft BS40101 ‘Building performance evaluation of occupied and operational buildings’, which is due to be published in November and is currently the subject of a public consultation. However, the importance of a competent and

compliant workforce to back up this kind of expert guidance cannot be overstated. The Building Safety Bill moved closer to Parliamentary approval in July and it is designed to radically change the legal process for ensuring people are protected from shoddy workmanship and unsafe practices. The Bill will give homeowners up to 15 years to

take action over non-compliant work and, because the legislation will be retrospective, the new Building Safety Regulator will be able to act over many projects that have already been completed even though the Bill does not come into force until 2023. The legislation will require project teams to

consider safety risks at the earliest stage of the planning process and a new Building Safety Regulator will enforce a regime that places responsibility on constructors to pass safety tests at three stages: design, construction, and completion. “We have long talked about the ‘culture change’

envisioned by Dame Judith Hackitt for reforming our industry and this update to the Bill gives us a clearer idea of what that could look like in practice,” said BESA’s director of certification Rachel Davidson. “Many parts of construction and the building engineering sector have, effectively, been unregulated for decades. To really get to grips with that, we would like to see the Bill given real teeth and extended to cover the whole building stock, not just high rise residential. “Also, the regulator must be properly funded and

resourced so that it can start to deliver the Hackitt vision and deliver the culture change we all recognise

10 August 2021


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