28 May 2022

Improving air quality by managing CO2 levels

Today it is widely accepted, important and encouraged to keep indoor working spaces as well ventilated as possible to reduce the risk of Covid-19, other viruses and disease spreading.

This is vital in many working environments where people congregate: such as education environments (e.g. schools and universities), hospitals, doctors’ rooms, hotels, restaurants, manufacturing and production facilities, and offices – the list is almost endless. Therefore, managing this problem for staff and customers entering these areas is crucial.

During winter seasons, this challenge is worsened by the fact that cold weather results in people preferring to keep windows closed, in favour of warmth and comfort over fresh air.

Chris Potts, Marketing Director, ANT Telecom explains how organisations can improve air quality by managing CO2 levels within working environments more effectively. He covers how manual approaches are time consuming and less accurate and how the Internet of Things (IOT) is currently solving this ventilation problem.

What is the guidance on CO2 levels?

One of the challenges most organisations face here is that they don’t have a true gauge of how bad air quality is. This issue can be simply addressed by monitoring CO2 levels within air, as high concentrations would indicate stagnate or poor air quality. But, how is CO2 measured?

CO2 levels are measured in Parts Per Million (ppm). Typically, outdoor areas will have around 400 ppm and guidance suggests organisations should keep as close to that as possible, without exceeding 1500 ppm where people gather (e.g. meeting rooms, bars, restaurants, cinemas), or 800 ppm where people congregate for long periods of the day (e.g. open plan offices).

What is more, for office, hospitality and education environments, the law states, “employers must ensure an adequate supply of fresh air (ventilation) in enclosed areas of the workplace.” Not only is this crucial for Covid-19 safety, but it is vital for employee wellbeing – as well as other people entering these environments.

Aligning with these requirements, though, means CO2 levels must be measured accurately and consistently throughout the day with findings recorded.  In doing this, the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) warns and advises organisations: “Single or ‘snapshot’ readings can be misleading. Take several measurements throughout the day, when the room is occupied, to represent changes in activities, the number of people using it and ventilation rates.” This then raises important questions for many firms about the best methods to use to track CO2 levels accurately?

Methods used to measure and record CO2 levels 

In many cases, organisations depend on manual, time consuming, paper-based monitoring processes to collect and record findings. These are not only inefficient, but also have a high likelihood of inaccuracy. With pressures increasing on organisations to improve productivity and streamline operations, they need a means of performing these critical processes in a way that not only saves valuable time, but also provides peace of mind that checks are timely and accurate, in line with HSE.

For example, one approach that many organisations deploy is to use handheld CO2 monitors. This manual approach is less effective as CO2 levels develop over time, based on the number of people in a particular area (e.g. the office) – furthermore, the spot checks on ventilation in the morning won’t be sufficient to provide the useful consistent data advised by the HSE through the day either.

Often, many companies already monitor equipment, appliances and environmental conditions with sensor technology for compliance and safety purposes. So the use of this technology to support here is not new either. However, the problem experienced today is that many older systems used make use of hardwired sensors, that are difficult and expensive to install. If equipment needs moving, sensors must usually be rewired, which is time consuming and costly.

Moreover, these older sensors become less accurate over time and must be recalibrated regularly to provide reliable data to drive decisions. These systems and the data provided are not easily accessible either, making processes time consuming and inefficient. Even straight forward tasks like ‘creating a report’ to share with colleagues can be challenging – and simple requirements to change reporting intervals can be complex to implement too, so not ideal.

Cloud and IoT are game changers

This is where modern IOT monitoring solutions and sensors can improve operational efficiency and increase productivity – they help to replace traditionally manual processes. In the past, people would have carried out these labour intense tasks. But, automated monitoring systems using IOT technology provide accurate 24/7 data measurements in real-time, improve decision making and reduce costs. They also help to free up staff time to work in other areas of the business more productively instead.

Often infrastructure and sensors used here are low-energy and cloud-based too. The sensors are wireless too, making them easy and cost effective to install. Effective integration into organisational IT networks is not required, making it easy to overcome IT security concerns. Connectivity has generally been raised as an issue for many systems in the past, but today’s sensors are sophisticated. Many do not require WiFi or mobile data coverage, meaning they can be used within any number of CO2 monitoring situations and will even work in air ducts.

Additionally, the array of wireless sensors available to organisations means that firms can expand their monitoring capabilities into other important areas if necessary. For example, to help with temperature monitoring on fridge / freezer and cryogenic containers; or to monitor energy consumption; or to ensure water safety and compliance, to reduce the risk of legionella.

£25 Million ventilation fund for Scottish Companies

The Scottish Government has recently made £25 million in funding available to improve ventilation and air quality in business premises, to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission. Small and medium-sized businesses, where people come into close proximity, such as in the hospitality and leisure sectors, can claim back costs of up to £2,500 to undertake work.

This could include the installation of carbon dioxide monitors and remedial improvement work to windows and vents. Businesses will be able to fill in a self-assessment form to receive advice on improving their current ventilation systems and identify if they are eligible for financial support. The Business Ventilation Fund was opened to applications the week beginning the 22nd November 2021.

This investment in air quality solutions highlights the importance of solving this air quality issue in Scotland. But, it’s not just Scottish organisations where investments in air quality and CO2 monitoring must take place. This is a UK industry- and sector-wide issue to deal with.

Conclusion

Through the pandemic, as many schools and workplaces opened, Covid-19 spread. Government guidance has broadly maintained that fresh air helps to mitigate the risk of infection, along with other measures – it lists good air quality, ventilation and CO2 monitoring as one of the most important measures to control the spread of infections,  and health experts confirm this. So as organisations look to protect their workforce, their productivity and their bottom line, it becomes important to consider, too, the best ways to monitor the amount of CO2 in the air, in order to ensure that employees (and customers) are breathing good quality air as much as possible. IOT systems and sensors play an important role here, as they can often be used to help track air quality more accurately and in real time.