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Health risks & ventilation systems

16 June 2016

Ventilation systems are these days the norm in commercial buildings. Whether you're providing a building-wide system for the comfort of your employees and clients or a system for extracting grease and fumes from a commercial kitchen, you have a legal duty to provide a healthy place of work.

Providing the system isn’t enough, though. It has to be regularly cleaned.

What needs cleaning?

Filtrex, a leading supplier and installer of ventilation system equipment, recommends having your filters and ducts professionally cleaned on a regular basis. The dirt and grease that can build up in an uncleaned system not only prevent it from filtering the air effectively, spreading contaminants through the building, but also provide a breeding-place for bacteria, viruses and pollen.

As Modern Building Services magazine points out, it’s a legal requirement that “mechanical ventilation systems, including air-conditioning systems, are regularly cleaned, tested and maintained to ensure that they are kept clean and free from anything that may contaminate the air and cause health problems.” This means professional servicing, not a wipe-down by a general cleaner.

What problems can dirty ventilation systems cause?

A dirty ventilation system can cause or contribute to anything from persistent, ongoing health issues to serious outbreaks of disease. Sick Building Syndrome is a notorious hazard of working in commercial premises. As the NHS website explains, it has a range of causes, not all clearly understood. Some are certainly connected with air pollution, though, and cleaning ventilation systems is an essential step in combating SBS.

Sick Building Syndrome can cause symptoms ranging from headaches to shortness of breath, but dirty ventilation systems can also cause outbreaks of serious infections such as legionnaires’ disease. This is the result of those bacteria breeding in dirty ducts and filters and, if it’s found to result from your failure to maintain your ventilation system, you could be liable to prosecution.

Many of the risks associated with dirty ventilation systems are to do with disease and infection, but a serious additional risk is of fire. This can happen when the deposits inside the system get heated up, especially when kitchen ventilation systems are too greasy.

What to do

In order to avoid health and fire risks, your commercial ventilation system needs to be cleaned and serviced professionally a minimum of once a year. If the system’s in heavy use, though, it may need to be cleaned as frequently as every three months.

In between, the filters should be removed and cleaned frequently, either by professionals or by competent maintenance staff. If you’re in doubt about frequency, you could discuss it with your supplier or with ventilation specialists Filtrex Environmental.