The impact of poor air quality can be a major problem leading to impaired performance at work, unhappy customers, sickness or even death - but not enough is being done to combat the problem say experts.
Ian Wall, sales director of duct cleaning specialists Ductbusters, said: “The problem is partly that many people simply don’t think about air quality or its importance as an essential contributor to health and wellbeing, whether in the workplace or in healthcare environments. Also, as the only legal requirement regarding ventilation hygiene is that systems are regularly inspected and the findings recorded but there is no legal obligation to clean, when budgets are under pressure as they are now it is too easy to put off what may be essential cleaning work.”
Wall cites the area most at risk and where regular duct cleaning can make the most valuable contribution is in healthcare, particularly in hospitals.
He said: “In hospitals highly infectious diseases like MRSA and Clostridium difficile are not only carried through ventilation systems, but can thrive and feed on flakes of dead dry human skin which is a component of hospital dust and can build up in ventilation ducts.”
Recent data from the Office for National Statistics showed that while the number of people dying due to MRSA and Clostridium difficile fell last year, superbug infections were still responsible for 30,000 deaths in five years.
However, one expert believes that the number of patients in British hospitals dying from superbug infections has reached more than 10,000 every year.
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Mark Enright, professor of molecular epidemiology at Imperial College London, said that the real number of those succumbing to MRSA and Clostridium difficile in the UK is higher than the government’s records show. “I think it is at least 10,000 a year,” he said. “A lot of people are never tested for these infections and their deaths are put down to something else.”
Dr Ghasson Shabha is facilities management MSc course leader at the School of Property, Construction and Planning at Birmingham City University. He is also MRSA project co-coordinator and is currently assessing commercial viabilities for new technologies for tackling infection control in health environments.
Dr Shabha agrees there is a real and urgent need to make regular duct cleaning an essential part of sustained hospital cleaning and maintenance programmes. He said: “MRSA has increasingly become one of the major sources of healthcare-associated infection in hospitals in Britain and a main contributory factor to 100,000 cases per annum. It thrives in relatively non – humid environments and feeds on flakes of dead, dry human skin. It withstands desiccation at temperatures of 18-37 C and is thus a frequent component of hospital dust, making it more likely to spread via ventilation and air-conditioning systems. Ducts in hospitals, depending on type and function of rooms, should be cleaned on a three to six monthly basis; filters, depending on whether multi-layered or single layered, should be replaced on regular basis, ideally six monthly, as part of planned preventive maintenance programme.”
Ian Wall concluded: “The cost of not having a thorough and regular duct cleaning and maintenance programme is very high indeed – in human terms alone, probably more than 10,000 lives lost every year - and the cost to the NHS of treating hospital acquired infections which is estimated to be around £1BN per annum.”