BESA chief executive David Frise
Research carried out by CBI Economics on behalf of the Clean Air Fund shows that, apart from the obvious health impacts, poor air quality also reduces productivity, shortens the operating life of capital equipment and increases maintenance costs.
The business organisation said that improving air quality should be a key part of the UK’s journey to net zero and that meeting World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines by 2030 was “a crucial element of the green recovery”.
BESA added that more attention should be paid to the quality of the air inside buildings adding that the appalling standard of some domestic ventilation systems was storing up a major health scandal.
“This does not just cause unnecessary suffering and death; it is a huge financial burden on the country – the NHS in particular,” said chief executive David Frise. “The pandemic has thrust the issue of indoor air quality (IAQ) into the spotlight and this is an opportunity to change things for the long-term good of the country and the economy.”
The CBI said air pollution was hitting the balance sheets of businesses right across the country and cutting the earnings of their employees.
“Cleaning up our air would help us to lead healthier and more productive lives, while delivering a green jobs boost for the economy,” said chief economist Rain Newton-Smith. “Businesses from all sectors support a sustainable and green future and many companies are already committed to doing what they can to help the UK reach its net zero target for emissions in 2050.”
A recent BESA webinar heard how mechanical ventilation systems would play a key role in giving people confidence to return to buildings in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis – a factor that would determine how quickly businesses can get back to something like normal operation. However, it also heard that lack of attention to the quality of IAQ in domestic settings was an increasingly serious problem.
Air quality specialist Craig Booth warned that the country was creating “a new type of slum” defined by appalling indoor conditions. “We are seeing some terrible installations in homes and need to do much better,” he said – referring to the misuse of mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) systems in particular.
“Manufacturers are getting the blame for noisy and ineffectual systems, but often it is the installation that is wrong with flexible ducting being squeezed into inappropriate spaces,” said Booth, who is a member of BESA’s Health & Wellbeing in Buildings committee.
“The COVID crisis has raised awareness of IAQ and demonstrated that well designed, installed and operated ventilation systems can tackle both internally and externally generated contaminants. This will be key to delivering bio-security in buildings as we seek to emerge from lockdown,” he said.