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Pandemic highlights need for improved CO2 monitoring in workplace

Mark Newton, managing director at Sontay, asks how well air quality and environmental conditions are being monitored in large offices and commercial buildings, and are they being analysed correctly? 

Managing director at Sontay Mark Newton

The COVID-19 pandemic has put unprecedented focus on health and safety practices within workspaces. Hand sanitisers and social distancing are among the measures companies have been urged to put in place in order to keep factories and offices virus-free, but crucial to maintaining a healthy indoors environment at this time of crisis will be the effective use of ventilation.  

Energy and operational efficiencies are often considered when it comes to sending commands to the HVAC equipment, but it is vital that we also consider the comfort of occupants. Research shows the environment not only impacts peoples’ health; it can have a detrimental effect on their productivity.    

According to a study for the British Council of Offices by Oxford Brookes University and LCMB Building Performance, the performance of office workers actually declines when CO2 levels are high and temperatures are too warm or cold. This was one of the first practical studies into UK indoor office environments and highlighted some important issues when it comes to occupancy comfort and productivity. The workplaces that took part in the study were tested for a two-year period and had internet of things (IoT) enabled sensors installed to monitor fluctuating CO2 levels.   

Working smarter

The results showed that with lower CO2 levels, employees’ test scores improved by up to 12%. In one of the buildings tested, people worked 60% faster with reduced CO2 concentrations, completing tests in a mean time of 8.2 minutes, compared with 13.3 minutes with more CO2 in the atmosphere.

The study also highlighted that it is important that we do not consider energy efficiency and occupancy comfort in silos. Often, in an office, the atmosphere can start to feel stuffy and people put that down to it being hot so they turn up the air conditioning becoming less energy efficient. However, it is more commonly down to the CO2 levels and it is a change in the air quality that is needed not a change in temperature. The study also showed that closer monitoring of the CO2 levels meant that fan speeds could be significantly decreased without adversely affecting the CO2 levels in the workspace.

Although beneficial to a more productive working environment by increasing levels of comfort and well-being amongst staff, of prime concern regarding the issue of indoor quality in public and commercial buildings ought to be the occupants’ health – particularly in the current COVID climate.

Indicators 

In light of the pandemic, the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations (REHVA) has released guidance on the safe use of ventilation systems during the current crisis. Recommendations include installing a CO2 monitor with traffic light indication to help optimise ventilation. The sensor is particularly advised for rooms where ventilation depends on opening windows, as when used in conjunction with a building management system and high levels of CO2 are indicated, it will trigger the use of HVAC systems to optimise airflow. Sontay is able to offer such a solution as part of its full CO2 sensor range. 

Traffic light indication is one of the many options available via the CO2 monitoring device, which features the latest multi-sensor technology and functionality. The system highlights green when indoor air quality and ventilation is good, while amber means CO2 levels are increasing and action is required to reduce occupancy and ventilate the area. Red is a signal to immediately increase ventilation or reduce occupancy due to the presence of higher-than-recommended levels of CO2.

Active and resistive temperature readings, RH outputs, and non-dispersive infra-red (NDIR) sensor technology are among the CO2 monitoring system’s other built-in features. All of which combine to create building interiors that optimise occupant comfort and well-being.

CO2 monitoring is often overlooked, but so important. The Oxford Brookes University study sums it up perfectly when it states, ‘People are a business’ biggest cost, and yet most workplaces aren’t optimised to get the best from them. The key to getting the best out of people is improving the environment we make them work in.’  

 

30 September 2020

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