Air Conditioning and Health

Many people describe air conditioning systems in public and commercial buildings as the lungs of the building. The air-conditioning system draws in outside air, filters it, heats, cools or humidifies it, circulates it around the building, then expels a portion of it to the outside environment. The system is made up of intake ducts, air filters, cooling towers, a boiler, and exhaust ducts.

The quality of the air workers breathe during working hours is totally dependent on the operation of the building’s air-conditioning system. Substandard air-conditioning will lead to poor indoor air quality, irritable and potentially very sick workers.

The cost of poor air-conditioning at work is enormous. Studies show that increased sick leave and lower productivity related to poor air-conditioning, costs many millions in monetary terms each year. The human costs of poor air-conditioning include viral illness, respiratory problems, and deadly Legionnaires Disease (or Legionella).

What are the health effects of poor Air Conditioning systems?

Often the cause of respiratory and nasal symptoms is not properly diagnosed; therefore, the work related nature is not recognised. There are three major categories of health problems:

  • Lungs and respiratory tract problems
    (runny nose, blocked nose, coughing, sore throat, sneezing).
  • Virus and bacteria reactions
    (fever, chills, headaches, muscular ache, nausea and vomiting. Diseases include influenza, bronchitis and Legionnaire’s Disease)
  • Allergic reactions
    (itchy nose, watering eyes, shortness of breath, wheezing and coughs. Illnesses include sinusitis, asthma and humidifier fever).

Who is at risk?

Large numbers of workers are at risk:

  • workers in air-conditioned buildings, including office staff, cleaning staff and security staff
  • staff in air-conditioned venues such as hotels, museums, aquariums, gaming venues
  • building maintenance workers (such as mechanics, electricians, etc)
  • air-conditioning company workers

Studies between those who have worked for prolonged periods in air-conditioned offices and those who work outdoors have consistently shown that the people exposed to air conditioning are more susceptible to colds, flu, and other minor ailments. It has also been proven that the body undergoes a certain amount of stress when it is forced to go from a boiling hot environment into an air-conditioned one.

This is why regular air conditioning system inspections are important and with the introduction of the TM44 regulations, the recommendations in the air conditioning reports will assist in reducing the risks of harm to those people exposed to the air from the air conditioning system reducing and preventing health problems.

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Air Conditioning and Health