Indoors might not be as safe as you think

Monday - 26 March 2018

We spent around $100 billion on security products for commercial buildings in 20171.At the same time, occupational health and safety is a $6 billion industry in the U.S. alone2. But while this is all money well spent to keep your premises safe and secure, there’s a serious and growing risk that’s often overlooked as a workplace hazard.

Air pollution is now the fourth highest risk of death3, accounting for the lives of seven million people each year4. And although the majority of deaths occur in China and India, air pollution is a problem affecting nearly all of us; 92% of the world’s population breathe air deemed unsafe by the World Health Organization5. But the danger doesn’t just lurk outdoors.


Internal toxic environments

When we think of air pollution, we think of hazy skylines and smog-filled cities. Indoors is seen as less of threat – a safe place away from the toxic air outside. But of those seven million lives lost to poor air, over 60% result from indoor air pollution4.

And there’s two reasons for this. Firstly, we spend much more of our time indoors – around 90% of our lives, in fact – so poor internal air has a much higher impact on our wellbeing. Secondly, internal air quality is usually worse than that found outdoors, with indoor pollution averaging around two to five times higher than outdoors6.

That’s because the walls around us do not form an impenetrable barrier to pollution; every time a door, window or air vent is opened, external contaminants wash in. And once inside the pollutants are trapped – especially in the new breed of air-tight, energy-efficient buildings.

This trapped external pollution mixes with pollutants generated internally – from sources such as paint, furniture, commercial activity, cooking, and cleaning products. The result is a cocktail of contaminants that when inhaled can lead to a number of health complaints, ranging from asthma to heart disease and various forms of cancer.


A question of health and safety

Much as historical asbestos exposure continues to cause problems for companies today, organizations have a duty of care to protect employees and people that use their indoor environment from exposure to airborne contaminant. But as air pollution is getting worse, what can you do to protect the people in your building?


Stay aware

Acting normally during periods of high air pollution is not advisable. There are some simple steps that you can take to inhibit the harmful effects pollutants, such as restricting outdoor activity, limiting the opening of windows and increasing air flow rates from filtered HVAC systems. But in order to know when to act, it’s important to keep aware of the level of pollution in your local area. The OurAir smartphone app from MANN+HUMMEL gives a real-time view of air pollution in your location and provides recommendations on steps you can take to reduce the risk in your building.


Check your defenses

Air filters provide the best defense against air pollution, but can only provide that protection if they are functioning correctly. Often, filters are installed and forgotten until the air in the building becomes noticeably bad or a service company calls to change the elements. By this time, the filters may well be damaged and allowing contaminant to bypass, so inspect filters periodically to ensure the elements are in good condition and up to the job. Also check that the filters you have installed are the right size – a incorrectly specified filter will provide little to no protection.


Get the right tools for the job

Finally, ensure that the level of filtration is correct for your building. If the filtration efficiency is too low, contaminant may be able to enter the building, damaging HVAC system parts and compromising the internal air quality. If the filtration efficiency is too high, the filter may be choking the air flow leading to poor recirculation rates, unpleasant indoor environments and higher operating costs.

Our eco16 program can identify the perfect filter configuration for your system. We analyze your operating environment, air quality needs, and air pollution levels inside and outside your building to create a filter system that guarantees you a safe level of air quality at the lowest possible lifecycle cost. Visit our eco16 filter management system page to find out more.


1 Global Commercial Security Market Size Expected to Exceed USD 187 Billion by 2023, Today in Finance, May 2017

2 Occupational Health & Workplace Safety Services in the US: Market Research Report, Ibis World, November 2016

3 BBC, Polluted air causes 5.5 million deaths a year new research says, February 2016

4 World Health Organization, 7 Million Premature Deaths Annually Linked to Air Pollution, March 2014.

5 World Health Organization, WHO releases country estimates on air pollution exposure and health impact, September 2016.

6 EPA, Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) Study, 1985.