CO2 monitoring is ‘not enough’ for healthy and safe offices

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Why CO2 monitoring is “not enough” for healthy and safe offices
October 05, 2021

Infogrid’s Will Cowell de Gruchy argues why the government should mandate smart air quality monitors in offices and schools.

Will is the founder of Infogrid, an intelligent building platform that combines IoT sensors with powerful AI to automate and optimize building and building management. Before that, Will attended Oxford University and had a varied career – from finance to cage fighting in Thailand to tank commander in the British Army. His “why” has never changed, however: the preservation of nature (stopping extinction, deforestation, ocean-bound plastic, etc.) drove him to become an entrepreneur as he saw the impact successful entrepreneurs can have on the world Stage.

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Image: a photo by William Cowell de Gruchy

Do government policies allow people to feel safe at work?

As students return to school and offices across the country continue to operate or reopen, questions about the relative safety of office buildings have remained. Studies show that only one in three UK workers returned at least part-time, almost half the number in the rest of Europe.

Our own Healthy Buildings report found that 50 percent of employees have concerns about returning to the office. Opinions differ as to whether the hybrid workplace is good or bad, but one thing is undisputed: every employee deserves to feel safe in his office. The question is, do the latest government guidelines allow this?

“Low occupancy or large rooms with ‘low’ CO2 concentrations do not always mean that the ventilation is good. Nor do they mean that the risk of transmission is low. “

The most recent autumn / winter pandemic plan included the mandate of CO2 monitors in offices, schools and other public facilities. The reason seems pretty self-explanatory: carbon dioxide is usually a proxy measure of how well a room is ventilated and how much coronavirus could be floating in the air. We know that the CO2 value increases if windows and doors in an occupied room are not opened or the number of people in the room increases. In other words, if someone in this room has COVID and the CO2 level increases, the concentration of virus particles (virions) will increase with it.

So far, so good, you might think. But, as with many things related to the pandemic, it’s not that easy.

Relying on CO2 concentration is not enough

A recent report highlighted issues of relying on CO2 concentration alone to judge how good the ventilation is in a room. Low occupancy or large rooms with “low” CO2 concentrations do not always mean good ventilation. Nor do they mean that the risk of transmission is low. There are mutliple reasons for this.

First, people emit different amounts of CO2 depending on a number of factors: age, gender, health, and what they do. For example, someone who sings in a room emits more CO2 than someone who types silently on a keyboard.

Second, it is not enough to rely solely on CO2 levels; temperature and humidity also play a major role. A hot and humid meeting room helps virions stay alive longer in the air, even when CO2 levels are in the normal range. With the CO2 content alone, we run the risk of reducing the search for safer offices to a number game – if this is not the case.

After all, regular CO2 monitors can be inefficient and tedious. They require manual controls that waste time and resources, and the results must be recorded regularly for future reference. Not only does this make the system prone to failure, but there is also no way of checking when measurements are being taken, which makes the system susceptible to abuse.

Only 22% of companies collect data on healthy buildings

An investment in the equipment of a building should be considered long-term and not as a short-term response to a government mandate. With this in mind, facility managers in companies, schools and hospitals are better off installing an intelligent monitor that monitors CO. automatically recorded2, Temperature and humidity values ​​and uploads them securely to the cloud.

There are several reasons for this. First, one of the best ways to improve air quality is to simply tweak the temperature. This can also have a significant environmental benefit, as heating normally requires an enormous amount of energy. Uploading data to the cloud also allows it to be analyzed and used in conjunction with other data and provides an overview of the assessment of a building over time. With the analysis, facility managers can monitor the condition of the building and also diagnose problems with HVAC systems that would otherwise have been invisible.

In addition, studies have shown that cognitive functions can decrease when the level of CO2 in the air increases. In addition, the identification and quantification of CO2 emissions helps to identify excessive energy consumption or other inefficiencies. The reduction of the CO2 content – even if it is only a question of air monitoring – is typically accompanied by an increase in the efficiency and profitability of a company’s processes. This is vital for all of us, especially given that the government is committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Smart monitors not only take over data management automatically, without any administrative effort for installers or employers, but also offer a better price-performance ratio in the long term. The cost of installing smart monitors throughout the building is the equivalent of a sick day for just one or two people – and this can easily be avoided by providing adequate ventilation in the workplace.

The other benefit of smart monitors is that they benefit employees. In March 2021, we commissioned a survey of 2,000 working adults in the UK and identified a strong desire for access to their company’s healthy building data. Workers would be most interested in having access to virus risk data (59 percent), followed by cleaning information (57 percent) and air quality (54 percent). However, only 22 percent of employers currently collect this data. At Infogrid, we combine three measured values ​​(temperature, humidity and CO2 values) into a single “virus risk” metric and give building managers and employers the opportunity to convey the safety of the office environment to their employees.

The final benefit is that troubleshooting is easy. With real-time updates of temperature, humidity and CO2 as well as automatic air flow, facility managers can easily ensure that the air in the building always remains at a level at which not only CO2 is low, but temperature and humidity are also at a suitable level impede.

Switch to smarter systems

While the pandemic has highlighted the issue of indoor air quality and the need for adequate ventilation in buildings, simply checking indoor carbon dioxide levels manually is inefficient. While CO2 levels are a useful guide to whether the ventilation is effective enough to reduce the likelihood of coronavirus transmission, it doesn’t tell a full story and doesn’t give employers enough information about the health of the building. Moving to smarter systems offers employers a better, more reliable way to measure office security

Image: a photo of a busy work office.

Article written by William Cowell de Gruchy | Published October 05, 2021

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