Building management pivotal in global health and wellbeing, says respiratory expert

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Impact of indoor environmental quality on health

A recent technical briefing in London, hosted by the CIBSE Patrons, shed light on the critical role of facilities management and building services engineering in global human health and wellbeing.

Dr Philip Webb, Chief Executive of Respiratory Innovation Wales (RIW), emphasised the influence these sectors have, surpassing even the medical and social care professions in terms of impact.

Webb highlighted the severity of the indoor environmental quality (IEQ) crisis, advocating for increased investment in building and facilities management.

This, he argued, would be more effective than medical treatment in reducing excess deaths related to respiratory, cardiovascular, and mental health conditions.

Data on excess deaths due to air quality

Public Health Wales data revealed that air quality is responsible for up to 1,400 excess deaths per 100,000 people annually.

In contrast, Covid-19 accounts for 38 deaths per 100,000, smoking for 180, and cancer for 278.

Despite these numbers, air quality receives a fraction of the public funds allocated to health and wellbeing services.

Legacy of building design and new standards

“We are suffering from a legacy of poor building design dating back to the 1960s and 70s,” Webb said.

He pointed out that people spend up to 90% of their time indoors, making indoor air quality (IAQ) the most pressing issue.

Webb also revealed the upcoming launch of British Standard 40102 (Part One) for health and wellbeing in buildings.

This standard, first unveiled at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai, will offer benchmarks for measuring, monitoring, and reporting IEQ in non-domestic buildings.

Financial aspects and insurance industry response

RIW’s research shows that in Wales alone, £2.4 billion (£763 million on direct health costs) was spent on mitigating Covid-19 impacts.

Comparatively, less than £20 million is spent annually on air quality measures, primarily focused on outdoor air.

Webb also noted the increasing involvement of the insurance industry due to rising claims for workplace ill health.

Comments from industry experts

Helen Yeulet of the Building Engineering Services Association highlighted the industry’s significant skills gap and the role of the Building Safety Act in addressing project quality: “BESA is 120 years old this year and our members have been talking about the skills gap and the importance of ensuring only competent people carry out building services work since the very first meeting in 1904. This is just the latest iteration of a perennial problem.

“However, the stakes are higher than ever now as the new Building Safety Regulator has the legal power to look back 30 years and it will become increasingly important to have evidence that people are being properly trained to be compliant with legislation.”

CIBSE President Adrian Catchpole stressed the need for more professionals to meet climate change targets.

IFSJ Comment

The insights provided by Dr Philip Webb at the CIBSE Patrons technical briefing underscore the importance of facilities management and building services engineering in addressing global health challenges.

The data presented sheds light on the often-overlooked aspect of indoor air quality and its impact on public health.

The upcoming British Standard for health and wellbeing in buildings is a step forward, offering guidelines that could set new benchmarks in building design and management, potentially influencing health outcomes on a global scale.

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