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Govern Ment of Barbados Ministry of Labour


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INDOOR AIR QUALITY ASSESSMENTS
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THE IMPORTANCE OF INDOOR AIR QUALITY


Indoor air quality can impact significantly on the health, comfort and productivity of occupants of office environments. It is therefore a major concern to employers, building managers, and employees and it is important to understand indoor air quality, how it is assessed and how to improve indoor air quality to meet safety and health standards.

 

UNDERSTANDING INDOOR AIR QUALITY


Proper ventilation helps improve indoor air quality. Unlike outdoor air, indoor air is constantly being recycled. This causes the ventilation system to trap and build up pollutants which could significantly reduce the quality of indoor air quality. There are two main types of ventilation:

  • Natural Ventilation which occurs when windows and other deliberate openings in the building allow indoor and outdoor air to be exchanged passively.

 

  • Mechanical Ventilation involves the use of powered equipment, e.g. fans, to move air. Buildings with mechanical ventilation systems are sealed and a Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system controls the air exchange and conditions the air that is delivered to the occupants.

Most workplaces in Barbados utilize mechanical ventilation provided by HVAC systems,  include all of the equipment used to ventilate, heat, and cool the building; to move the air around the building (ductwork); and to filter and clean the air. These systems can have a significant impact on how pollutants are distributed and removed. In Barbados, the heating component of this system is not utilised due to the annual temperatures which we experience.

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How Do HVAC Systems Work?
Outside (supply) air is drawn into a building's HVAC system through the air intake by the air handling unit (AHU). The supply air is filtered to remove particulate matter, heated or cooled, and then circulated throughout the building by the fans via the air distribution system. Conditioned (return) air travels to the AHU where it is mixed with fresh air, re-filtered, re-conditioned, and re-circulated throughout the building.







Effects of HVAC Systems on IAQ
Pollutants in the HVAC system (e.g. mould or bacteria in the duct lining or on filters) may be spread throughout the office from one portion of the building to another through the HVAC duct distribution system. Regular maintenance can help minimise these problems.

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)
This condition is characterised by symptoms such as itchy or watery eyes, dizziness, headaches, nausea, sinus congestion, lethargy, and an inability to concentrate. Respiratory infections and aggravated symptoms associated with allergies and asthma may also result from SBS. SBS evolved as a result of the increasing incidence of indoor air pollution, caused mainly by the move from natural to mechanical ventilation in offices. The introduction of mechanically ventilated systems in offices has resulted in the construction of more tightly sealed buildings and reductions in ventilation rates, to save energy.

 

SOURCES OF INDOOR AIR POLLUTION


Biological contaminants: Condensation and inadequate maintenance, poor housekeeping and insufficient humidity control may result in increased concentrations of bacteria and fungi by creating conditions that support their growth. Mould is usually present in small amounts in indoor air but conditions should not promote its growth.
Chemical pollutants including Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's): Sources of chemical pollutants include tobacco smoke and emissions from products used in the building, such as office equipment, and cleaning products, and human activities such as perfumes and air fresheners.
Particles: Particles of dust, dirt, or other substances may enter the building from the outside and may also be produced by activities within buildings such as smoking, printing, copying, and operating equipment. Other particulate sources include cleaning products, carpet, paper dust and human skin cell fragments.

 

INDOOR AIR QUALITY ASSESSMENTS

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HOW TO IMPROVE INDOOR AIR QUALITY

  • Do not block air vents or grilles.
  • Avoid bringing products into the building that could release harmful or bothersome odors or contaminants.
  • Comply with the office and building smoking policy.
  • Dispose of garbage promptly and properly.
  • Water and maintain office plants properly.
  • Monitor any signs of mould.
  • Outdoor air intakes should be located high above the ground and away from known pollution sources, like traffic routes, parking lots and garbage areas.
  • Air filters must be changed according to the manufacturers' recommendations.
  • Humidifiers add humidity to air that is too dry. These can be a contamination source if they are not cleaned properly or if they contain standing water that is not appropriately treated.

 




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3rd Floor West, Warrens Office Complex, Warrens, St. Michael, Barbados | Tel: (246) 535-1400 | Fax: (246) 535-1573 | E-Mail: mol@labour.gov.bb