Healthy working conditions: a breath of fresh air

Paul Langford, Engineering Director at Colt International, reveals how providing healthy, productive, working conditions is like a walk in the park.

I’m sure that we all appreciate the benefits of fresh air. Few would argue against the notion that a walk in the countryside or along the beach makes you feel happier and healthier with a renewed vigour to take on what life may throw your way.

Paul Langford, engineering director, Colt International.
Paul Langford, engineering director, Colt International.

The dog walkers among those reading this article will know that even when the weather is far from perfect, positive effects can still be felt.

There is evidence to suggest that fresh air reduces the likelihood of high blood pressure, helps your body to digest food properly and so maintain a healthy weight, strengthens your immune system and, as well as making you feel happier, gives you more energy and a sharper mind.

These are attributes we would all wish our employees to have, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Sick Building Syndrome

Indeed, the NHS recognise Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) as the cause of a range of general symptoms – for example headaches, nausea, fatigue and poor concentration – brought on by a combination of various factors including poor ventilation, low humidity and airborne particles, for example, dust and fungal spores.

The Health and Safety Executive recommend that employers carry out a survey to establish if SBS is a concern in their workplace, to highlight any issues and then repeat the survey to monitor the improvement.

In fact, providing fresh, clean air is a requirement of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1993, along with maintaining the temperature at a comfortable level.

Most people probably associate a high internal temperature with an unproductive environment, and it’s true that elevated temperatures do lead to uncomfortable conditions and in extreme cases heat stress.

Manufacturing Welding Stock Image
The need to wear protective clothing can stops the body’s natural cooling system – sweat – from being effective.

In working environments, the need to wear protective clothing can make the problem worse as it stops the body’s natural cooling system – sweat – from being effective. Dehydration can also be a factor.

The result is a loss of concentration which is widely accepted to reduce productivity and increases absenteeism and accidents. It follows that ensuring the right conditions in your factory will lead to improved productivity: some put the figure as high as 15%, although 4% is likely to be closer to the average.

Cool factories

Most factories require cooling to provide comfortable working conditions in summer.

The traditional approach, using air conditioning, actually results in minimising the amount of fresh air introduced to the building as the capital and running costs associated with conditioning outside air, when compared to recirculated indoor air, are directly proportional to the size of the plant required.

Colt International PQAs the standard of construction has improved over the years and the quality of materials used has increased, leading to better insulation and air tightness, the ‘cooling season’ has extended. Running costs are therefore even more important than ever.

With staff accounting for 80-90% of operating costs for typical companies, shouldn’t we do everything possible to maximise that investment by providing our employees with a comfortable and healthy place to work?

The challenge facing the modern business owner seeking to provide a healthy, comfortable and productive working environment for their workforce is to achieve this without costing the earth, both figuratively and literally.

In some ways people are like the machinery and processes they operate – they don’t like sudden or extreme changes in their environment.

It’s true that humans have the ability to adjust to their surroundings: thermal comfort studies have shown that after two to three days people acclimatise to modest changes in temperature.

However, as discussed previously, protective clothing reduces our ability to adapt. More importantly can any business afford to see a 48 hour drop in productivity every time we have some ‘nice’ weather?

Energy efficient climate control systems

At Colt we look at the whole picture over the long term. We have been designing, installing and maintaining energy efficient climate control systems for more than 50 years.

Systems like the Colt CoolStream evaporative cooling system offer a high level of fresh air supply combined with low energy use and have low operating costs.
Systems like the Colt CoolStream evaporative cooling system offer a high level of fresh air supply combined with low energy use and have low operating costs.

Combining modern control systems to proven technologies like evaporative cooling brings the best of both worlds.

Systems like the Colt CoolStream evaporative cooling system offer a high level of fresh air supply combined with low energy use and have low operating costs.

These have several advantages. The most obvious one is that the provision of fresh air brings the benefits outlined above, naturally making the working environment healthier.

The ability to take advantage of so-called ‘free cooling’, where lower external air temperatures can be used to cool the building in spring and autumn reduce running costs still further.

Equipment is generally smaller and lighter so it’s possible to install it in the areas its needed most and avoid expensive runs of ducting which are also inflexible when the factory layout is changed.

As the temperature of the air supplied isn’t too low, the psychological benefits of air movement can be exploited without the risk of cold draughts causing discomfort.

This technology is applicable to a wide range of industries, and Colt systems integrate filtration and control routines to ensure that optimum efficiency is maintained.

Maintenance requirements are low and the modular, distributed approach allows planned preventative maintenance to be carried out whilst production continues.

Comparison of costs - CoolStream v conventional air conditioning systemIn one recent example, nine Colt CoolStream units were installed in a 4,000m² food production facility to provide filtered, cooled fresh air to improve the working conditions for staff.

The system also included Colt Tornado roof extract units with variable speed fans. The result was a reduction in internal temperatures during the summer period of up to 15°C and a significant improvement in indoor air quality.

The graph gives a comparison in operating costs of an evaporative cooling system compared to a typical traditional mechanical air conditioning system for a building with a volume of 33,000m³ and a heat load of 210kW.

The annual running costs for the CoolStream system are less than one third of those for a comparable air conditioning system.

I can’t remember who said that “if you look after your staff, they will look after your business for you”, but I believe they were absolutely right. Now I’m off to get some fresh air!