How to risk assess your office
For airborne contaminant risks

How to risk assess your office school and workplace

Created Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Covid 19 has taught us many lessons over the past two years and today many new people are considering new or upgraded air for their building. Today’s podcast is an introduction on how to look at your office, school or facility building and think about how to assess the risks.


  • How Covid has changed peoples attitude to air quality
  • Risks to consider in office, school and facility buildings
  • Options for new and retro-fitting of school buildings
  • Energy and maintenance costs for air filtration systems
  • How to monitor, measure and maintain a system



For your convenience, here is a 90% accurate automated transcript of the podcast.


Paul Flanagan  0:03 

Energy Cost is a huge part of what we pitch as a producer and seller of these products. A filter in a system creates something called pressure drop. And we really live and die by pressures drop in our business. When airflow is forced into a filter, it creates resistance on the fan. So there's power running this fan. And if it needs to run harder, we need to use more electricity. But if we select a filter that has a specific type of media, filter media and the correct amount of surface area, we reduce that pressure drop, and therefore need to require less electricity. And over time, the running costs will reduce compared to filters that are not so well designed.


Dusty Rhodes  0:48 

Hello there and welcome to Let's Talk clean air, our regular look at how clean air can affect the quality process for you and the workplace. On this episode, we're finding out how to look at your office school or facility building and think about how you go about assessing the risks for the air of the people within my name is Dusty Rhodes and joining me to walk us through this is the managing director of Camp Phil Ireland, Paul Flanagan. And, Paul, do you think that with our recent experience is COVID actually going to change anything with regard to air quality and buildings?


Paul Flanagan  1:22 

Well, I think it should, for sure, I think people's attitude towards indoor air quality is already changing, but probably not at a rate that it should be, you know, the fight or I suppose it was soon as the World Health Organization deemed COVID To be an airborne virus, people started waking up to want to understand that they needed to address certain issues within buildings, what have you. So attitude should change and understanding of standards and where people need to be, you know, in relation to what changes they need to make, or devices they need to position in order to protect the staff within the building as best they can.


Dusty Rhodes  2:06 

And have there been changes kind of made it because he said WHO defined COVID as airborne. So then that kind of follows on that things will have to be done differently or treated differently. Are there any new kind of regulations or standards that are now in place as a result of that?


Paul Flanagan  2:24 

Yeah, I mean, the standards have been there for a long time. And they change quite regularly over the years as we learn more about those particles and certain levels and  the performance of filters. As testing equipment gets better, we understand what's happening in the air more in a lot of buildings and office spaces in particular, not so much schools, unfortunately. But in factories and office spaces. They have quite valid and effective air handling systems, heating systems. And quite often, the last thing that's taken care of as the filter that's in that product, because the air handling unit mechanism takes care of the ventilation it takes care of heat and cooling, and dries the air and all that kind of stuff. But the filter is a low cost consumable within  the air handling unit. And quite often, there's a price consideration for that product. It's changed regularly enough. And if we use a cheaper product brands tend to overlook the correct standards. And therefore there's bypass of particles and droplets and so on, coming in from outdoors. These systems are also designed to recirculate. Some COVID type viruses or anything else that's in the air can recirculate to the system and not be captured by your correct filter. So it's always important to ensure the filters that are used are in compliance with the standard.


Dusty Rhodes  3:47 

You mentioned schools they're out unfortunately, they're kind of overlooked when you compare them to offices or facilities.


Paul Flanagan  3:56 

Yeah, I suppose it again, if you think of a primary schools in particular, You know, we're talking about most of the primary schools that we have in this country. And I guess it's the same across Europe, and probably globally, is that most of them are built many, many years ago. I mean, it's not so many schools being built these days. I think everybody would agree with that. And there's still some schools out there prefab buildings, really, really old buildings with overcrowded numbers and no ventilation systems other than opening windows available. And you remember all this when COVID was at its peak? in the three or four times it was spiking that ventilation became a huge issue. And open windows was causing problems because of temperatures and classrooms and what have you. And the reason for this is because there's no ventilation so ventilation. ventilation and air conditioning, pulls in air from outside and provides the oxygen that we need and drowns out the co2 levels, but also filters air within the building coming from outside And recirculating in loops to clean any particles are contaminated. They're within the building, where were the sources within the building. To upgrade a building to have a system like this will be a phenomenal undertaking.


Dusty Rhodes  5:16 

Do you really have to rip the building apart in order to get the are there workarounds.


Paul Flanagan  5:23 

Though, there are some workarounds available those too, but I think you've hit the nail on the head there, genuinely to fit a proper system installed a proper system, you have to rip the building apart, you're talking about a system that requires many, many, many lengths and runs of ductwork and ductwork leading off of a big system. Distributing air around all the different locations in the building. And that's every classroom, every corridor, every storeroom, every teacher's office, every staff room, every gymnasium, you know, it's incredibly a huge network of duct. So, you know, the larger colleges and universities and institutes of technology and so on, have this already built in which larger infrastructures, they've got more money behind them. They're typically built with those systems already in place, but bearing in mind that most primary or even post primary schools or, you know, dated buildings that wouldn't have had that type of thing going on.


Dusty Rhodes  6:24 

And what do you think the thinking is? Because in there, I'm not an expert, okay. But my thinking is that if you're going to do an office building, err is one of the big considerations if you're running a facility, and particularly any really food manufacturing, or computers or anything like that air is a massive consideration. Yet when it comes to, I suppose, like many things in life, schools kids now.


Paul Flanagan  6:48 

Yeah, I mean, it's a very good point to make, again, the ISO 16890 standard, very much changed, its focus on what used to be always processes and, and the environment and, you know, protecting the product and making sure that in the manufacturing industry, the product was protected or not contaminated with poor or poor indoor air quality. But the ISO 16890 standard focuses more on people, because it genuinely is the people that are in the building, we have, we should give priority to I mean, take a hospital, for example, patients with, you know, immune suppressed systems are susceptible to infection, far more than healthier people are. So it's so important that they provide that the correct levels of indoor air quality, which most hospitals do to be fair. And, you know, a lot can be learned from hospitals, because they can't compromise their indoor air quality. Because, you know, it's not the right thing to do. But yeah, you know, why? Why was the focus not on on protecting people and kids in classrooms and so on many years ago, I guess, because the knowledge wasn't there. The cost is a huge thing as well, you know, I mean, you're talking about, typically a primary school will have something in the region of about 8 and up to 30 classrooms. And to install HVAC system as part of an original build, you could be talking maybe another half a million quid on top of the build cost be without the system. But we've learned so much more about it. Now, the focus should be on ventilation, any newer schools or facilities that are being built, but certainly the older ones, didn't take that into consideration.


Dusty Rhodes  8:29 

Well, let's talk about the last two years because now COVID is receding? Well, allegedly. What are the risks and buildings that we need to consider now? With our experience?


Paul Flanagan  8:42 

Well, I think in my opinion, and certainly the opinion of others, the risk is still there as much as it was during the peak periods. And what I mean there is that, look how quickly a spike can happen. We think today, everything is fine. If you look at four or five weeks ago, from where we are now. We're in a really good position. All of a sudden we start getting spikes, okay, protocols and lockdowns and so on weren't reintroduced correctly, in my opinion, but But whoever. As far as indoor air quality is concerned, we don't have to rely on the strict protocols. What I mean by that is that if you think about hand sanitizing and mask wearing and all the other PPE that's required in certain facilities, social distancing, all the things that are expected of us during those periods where people behavior didn't always adhere to us with indoor air quality. It's up to the management or the building management teams to ensure that the correct levels of indoor air quality are being provided. The correct levels of filtration are being adhered to as far as the standards are concerned. So it's out of sight out of mind. We don't have to do anything as people to walk into a building to ensure the indoor air quality is correct. So that's something that can be provided by the building management people. So from that perspective, That's an easy one to overcome, if you're a building manager, so they're the things that should be getting done anyway.


Dusty Rhodes  10:06 

So when you think about the quality as the health standard of air that's within a building, now that we've gone through COVID, do you think that if everybody now I'm going to be very general, this say that every single building that was ever built ever in the world, all had an up to spec HVAC system that COVID would have been as bad as was?


Paul Flanagan  10:27 

I, I definitely believe it would not have been as bad as it was, if ventilation was there, it is not nothing shorter than that. I mean, you know, we have the open window scenario again, but a lot of buildings can have that. And for many reasons, safety being one of them, I mean, a lot of the taller buildings don't, don't allow Windows to be open. That kind of thing. But no, for sure, I mean, we've done many tests in schools and so on, where we have particle counters, measuring the levels of particles in air, and then we measure them, when we put a temporary system or an air cleaner in place, and then we'll see a dramatic fall off. So therefore, we know that the, the the airborne virus will not be as plentiful in those spaces. So


Dusty Rhodes  11:10 

if I am managing a building, what kind of risks do I need to consider now that people are starting to filter back into the pardon my use of the word filter? I need to consider now that people are actually coming back to the office and factories and stuff.



Paul Flanagan  11:28 

Well, again, I think a lot of the protocols, and the compulsory masquerading and so on has disappeared. So the risks are, I guess that, from an indoor air quality perspective, the risk that your equipment is not working correctly, the create the risk that your filter is not specified in accordance with the standard. And from a risk perspective, to overcome that you can use a lot of temporary systems or plug and play systems, such as air, such as air cleaners with HEPA filters in there. And the big issue, again, we have with that and we're seeing that come again, I'll use the analogy of filtering down to the cost of an air cleaner when air cleaners were a big demand. During the higher peaks, we saw price consideration was given. Because there was an awful lot of characters required. I mean, again, when I say 18 to 30 classrooms in a typical primary school, you're talking maybe an investment of 30 or 40,000 euros to install a plug and play system to have an air cleaner in each classroom. So the unfortunate thing about that was that, just like the hedge fund systems, which cost an awful lot of money to build from the from the very get go are to install an upgraded and upgraded HVAC system. A lot of schools didn't have the correct funding, and they ended up buying systems that didn't work. And that still don't work. And actually, in some cases make the situation worse.


Dusty Rhodes  13:01 

Let me just ask you better because you seem to be saying that, you know, kind of a track systems are very expensive, which, you know, kind of would normally kind of, you know, make me nervous, particularly when, but the two things that I'm thinking of is, if you want to improve the air quality, and the health and everything in the building, that's the benefit that you're getting, okay. And your product and your workers will be out sick less. And there's so many different reasons for doing it. But you're coming on board at what cost, okay. Obviously, this is an investment, and it's an investment that will pay off over years. So how long could you expect a typical system to actually last? Just the hardware side of it now?


Paul Flanagan  13:48 

Yeah, well, that's a good question. Realistically, your system, a good HMI system will last almost forever. It is by far the best solution were to fairing to air cleaners, when A HVAC system is just not viable. You don't have the space or the funding or the, you know, the cost a lot to install it apart from the cost, the disruption experienced from a school or a similar building to install the HVAC system is phenomenal. Even if it's viable at all, but the HVAC system is the best. They will last as long as they're maintained. They require a lot of servicing. Like most things do. We're talking about equipment that has you know, cooling coils, some of them use water to heat and cool. We've got filters we've got, you know, lots of running parts like belts and bearings and pulleys and so on. But it's a huge industry. And there's a lot of service companies out there that rely solely on servicing this equipment and there are many buildings 40 50, 60 years old with equipment that's still running, you know, almost as well as it was from day one. So you're right to say it is an initial investment but the payback is over. Over years,


Dusty Rhodes  15:00 

and it's something that you can pay over years as well, which then brings the overall cost then down on a on a day to day basis, so to speak, to add to something reasonable. Now, we're talking about something that neither of us are in the business of installing these systems. But, uh, you will be, because filters is your business. So I want to ask you about the running costs. And we're gonna start with just kind of about the electricity costs of running an H vac system, are they expensive.


Paul Flanagan  15:28 

They are, if they're selected, incorrectly, I mean, it's iactually, energy cost is a huge part of what we pitch as a producer and a seller of these products. A filter in a system creates something called pressure drop, and we really live and die by pressures up in our business, it's, it's something that's created when, when airflow is forced into a filter, it creates resistance on the fan. So there's power running this fan. And if it needs to run harder, we need to use more electricity. But if we select a filter that has a specific type of media, filter media and the correct amount of surface area, we reduce that pressure drop, and therefore need to require less than electricity. And over time, the running costs will reduce compared to filters that are not so well designed.


Dusty Rhodes  16:20 

And then what about the actual filters themselves, because there are a range, you know, I suppose like washing up liquid, you go for the cheap stuff, and it runs out quickly you go for the more expensive stuff.


Paul Flanagan  16:32 

Absolutely, it's a perfectly good analogy. And again, we talk a lot about lifecycle costs, I mean, you will pay more for a better performing filter, but you replace the  lower cost on two or three times before you need to take care of the of the more expensive one. I mean, at the end of the day, you pay for what you get. And if you use a filter that's not correctly specified, you're going to compromise your energy usage, you're going to compromise your indoor air quality and your equipment protection. Because bear in mind is a lot of, you know technical equipment involved in HVAC systems. So as well as providing good quality, clean air into the building spaces, the equipment itself needs to be protected. And that's where the breakdown happens. Heating and cooling coils. And even the fan itself sometimes can get, you know, blocked with dirt, the filter is there to protect it as well as the actual environment itself.


Dusty Rhodes  17:23 

And how often do the filters need to be changes? Is that kind of a bit of a depends question.


Paul Flanagan  17:29 

It does depend on I'm probably asked that question about maybe a bit 15 times a day, that'd be perfectly honest.


Dusty Rhodes  17:34 

What's your answer?


Paul Flanagan  17:36 

And the answer hasn't changed at all over the last 25/30 years is that realistically it does depend? You know, it depends on whether the system is running 24/7 365 It depends on how strongly it's running, if it's pulling a lot of air, or only a small amount of air and wired. And of course, it depends on the location. Whereas the countryside building will have less particles to deal with than a city center environment etc.


Dusty Rhodes  18:02 

And so I'm guessing the initial install is it's a job, but it's something like buying a house that you can pay off over whatever 2030 years and again, the maintenance is like if you're buying a house, you maintain a house or you maintain a car. And when you do that you get years of life. My question for you is, after you've done all this, how do you know it's working? How do you monitor and measure the system?


Paul Flanagan  18:28 

are so glad you asked the question because I meant to allude to that area a few times. But I mean, there's so many different pieces of technology out there these days with sensors, particle counters, you know, all types of probes so you can position strategically in the building, to give you a reading of what you're actually indoor air quality, how it's performing. So, yes, sensors are the way to go. They'll tell you all types of things these days, years ago, it was only on particles, but now we'll have temperature we'll have humidity, we'll have the particle levels in the year. It'll tell you, you know, the type the levels of ozone you've got. It'll even give you an index on how viruses might behave in that particular level of air. So in other words, you might have an index of viruses from one to 10. And if you got into good indoor air quality, the virus itself won't be able to attach itself to other particles and move around the space more freely. So how to measure it and you must always measure it because if you can't measure it, you can't improve it. Use particle counters get companies in to you know, move around the building and give you accurate reports about how your building is doing or put permanent pieces of equipment in that connect to your building management system and give you daily dashboards which provides you with reports on your on your levels.


Dusty Rhodes  19:52 

I take it the measuring assistant systems must be very specialized, because it would make sense otherwise to just stick it in there and leave 24/7


Paul Flanagan  20:01 

Yeah, they are, but they've come out a lot. I mean, you know, years ago, a particle counter would cost five or 6000 euros, and the only people investing in those would be these specialized companies going to the sites and performing the tests. But now we have so much, you know, the Internet of Things has changed how we do things. So, I mean, it's a small device, maybe no more than four or five inches square stuck on a wall with the correct sensor, and memory cards and so on, you know, at a low enough cost is available now. And the information you're getting from that is so much more. So maybe expensive enough of your kidding out a very large building. But certainly nothing like it was years ago. And we're seeing more and more of that.


Dusty Rhodes  20:51 

And if you decide to go the option of getting a specialist company in to do very specific measuring, do you need to do that every month, every six months, or every year,


Paul Flanagan  21:02 

I would suggest is something that should only really be done annually. I mean, if you're if you're addressing the filters in the air handling units and HVAC system, or if you're using air cleaners, as long as you're you've got a good maintenance regime and change requirements in place, there should be no reason to constantly check us, you know, if you're happy that you've got no bypass or leaking in your system, and that it's maintained well by your by your on site maintenance team, or even by a contracting, firm calling, you know, to check your facilities, there should be no real reason why you should check it any more than than once annually.


Dusty Rhodes  21:38 

So now, after listening to everything, you've given us a much, much better idea of what's involved. So now, what kind of advice would you give to a facility manager who's maybe thinking this? What's the next step that I should do? If I kind of think, Oh, that's interesting?


Paul Flanagan  21:54 

Yeah, I mean, it depends on the type of building you've got, you know, newer buildings are already taking care of indoor air quality. But if I'm a facilities manager, or a building owner, or, you know, any type of property management, personnel should straightaway think about what they've got. So do I have an h vac system? If I don't, what can I do to supplement that? Is it important to to engage with the staff about indoor air quality and tell them that you've come and you've measured, you've either got a company in to take measurements, or you've put sensors in place to give you a live feed yourself on site. And if you're, if you're experiencing problems, put some plug and play your cleaners with properly certified HEPA filters in there and not something that's uncertified and only purchase would have cost consideration the point. I mean, I think I said earlier that, that the hand sanitization and the, the mask wearing and so you know, it's practically disappeared now. So this is not where the focus can be anymore, because people are prepared to move on from that. But if indoor air quality can be managed, without any restrictions to people, then it should be I think, pushed onto all the people occupying a building to allow them to understand that these efforts are being made by the facilities people to provide them with a building with good indoor air quality. And we're not talking about just protecting from viruses. There's so many other things that can cause, you know, absenteeism, which you mentioned earlier on and and better performance by providing people with better indoor air quality,


Dusty Rhodes  23:31 

 from what you're saying? It definitely appears that the whole idea of clean air has improved greatly in the last couple of years. And it's definitely a lot more possible and feasible now for a lot more people and facilities and buildings, especially schools and stuff like that kind of keep that in mind. I think it's definitely worth looking into. And somebody when don't give me the call is here. Can Phil All right, what what should I search on on Google? If I want to just find out more?


Paul Flanagan  24:06 

Absolutely. Again, I would say just check the standards. There are building standards out there. I mean, under so many other things we're seeing we're seeing lead, we're seeing BREEM we're seeing well building, check these platforms to see what they advise and what they recommend, check the standards, the ISO 6890 standard, the E N 16798 standard, these are all organizations, well known to all the governing bodies, and the manufacturers of filters like ourselves that we have to comply with the standards to make our product meet that standard. And you know, people occupied space must have a particular level of filtration in there as a minimum, and that that is part of some legislation. So that's most important to check the standards


Dusty Rhodes  24:52 

Listen, we will include one or two starting links if you'd like to get some independent advice on that. You will find them in the show notes, which you'll find in the description of the podcast on your phone right now or whatever device you're listening to us on. For now, Paul, thank you very much for talking to us and filling us in. Our podcast today was produced by Camfil, a world leader in the development and production of air filters and clean air solutions. To stay up to date on how clean air can affect the quality process for you and the workplace. Do click follow in your podcast player so you get our next episode automatically. On the next time for myself dusters Thank you for listening and take care