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The importance of clean air in healthcare

There are certain scenarios that increase the importance of the choices made when designing ventilation systems. In healthcare, where the careful specification of all building services is crucial, indoor air quality is an issue that has a direct effect on what matters most: the welfare of patients.

Ventilation is literally the provision of fresh air into a space. The problem is that “fresh” is not always an entirely accurate word. The air might flow through every room of a building, and in the setting of a hospital or care home patients and occupants are more vulnerable and at a higher risk of contamination and infection.

Prevention is protection – protection of the patients themselves, which in turn protects the provider from liability.

Healthcare premises are bound by the duty of care. Poor indoor air quality can foreseeably be a cause of harm, so this potential must be eradicated through carefully considered system design. Failing to prevent, dilute or contain harmful airborne substances can result in a civil suit against designers, engineers and operators by individuals who are affected.

Each room should be isolated from airborne threats, or at least have the potential to be depending on the condition and requirements of the patient or occupant.

Isolating and eradicating contaminant airborne risks is one thing, but the constant battle against excessive CO2 levels must also be monitored. Relying on windows and draughts is not sufficient, as during the winter months it is a natural reaction to try and keep the warmth in. As a result, CO2 builds up to unacceptable levels, to the detriment of occupants’ health.

It is not just vulnerable patients and their visitors that are affected by the quality of air indoors. The work that nurses, doctors and carers do requires an intense level of concentration and attentiveness. It has been proven in schools and other public establishments that indoor air quality has a huge bearing on concentration, so inadequate levels must not be allowed to hinder these workers’ capability to perform their duties.

When the air flow, room temperature and CO2 levels need such careful monitoring, the control that mechanical ventilation offers makes it a sensible choice. There is the potential for staff to physically monitor indoor air quality and make necessary changes accordingly. This might be a manual adjustment, but there are systems that can operate automatically to ensure that air quality does not fall below acceptable levels.

The fact that a mechanical ventilation system can help save on energy costs is an extra incentive. Money wasted on energy is money that can so easily be re-allocated towards ensuring excellent levels of care. The smallest margins become a big deal when peoples’ health is at stake.

Phil Marris is managing director of Jaga Heating Products (UK)

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