The air that I breathe

Dave Carson from P-Wave says that although washrooms play an essential part in our health, comfort and wellbeing, all too often they fail to reach the required standards; but it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Hollies, and later Simply Red – though we won’t talk about that – had a hit containing the lyric “Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe…”. I’ll be honest and admit I’m pretty sure they weren’t talking to about washrooms, but you could be forgiven for thinking they may have been given the unpleasant aromas that envelop all too many of these facilities. Sometimes visitors really are left gasping for breath after taking a ‘comfort’ break.

A facility’s washroom is rarely neglected – and often there will be inspection records or even customer feedback buttons to prove it – but unfortunately they often look and smell like they are a low priority to the buildings management. Even with high specification fixtures and fittings and regular cleaning, the overriding impression can be of an unpleasant pong, making a visit a less than favourable experience.

The power of smell

It is a very subjective topic, but many believe smell to be the most powerful of our senses. Whether that’s true is for better minds than mine to decide, but smell certainly plays an important part in our lives, whether evoking memories or warning of danger. When you are exposed to a bad smell you certainly know about it. This makes getting the washroom experience right vital to the overall impression of your building. Even if facilities are cleaned regularly, a bad smell will give the opposite impression, so the last thing you want to leave people with is a lasting memory of an unpleasant smell.

Given the disproportionate amount of a facilities manager’s time and effort washrooms involve, it’s no wonder that there are many hundreds of products on the market looking to resolve the issue. However, unfortunately many air freshening options just don’t live up to their inventively scented names or last the distance. The right products can beat the smell over a sustained period of time, tackle odour causing bacteria and reduce maintenance issues, such as blocked drains.

Five hints to help tackle nuisance odours

  1. Air fresheners

Perhaps an obvious option when taking on bad smells, but get the right one and it really will improve the atmosphere in your washrooms. Look for products containing strong, pleasant fragrances that can effectively mask bad odours. These can make an immediate and long-lasting improvement. Users should feel welcomed by the scent rather than repelled by an unpleasant stench. As well as whole room air fresheners, look for washroom specific products like toilet bowl clips and urinal fresheners.

  1. Everything in its place

The main cause of bad smells in the washroom is bacteria from urine in drains or splashback on the floor. Once the only way to tackle this was to drop a scented blue block into urinals and hope for the best. However, with new products 95% of splash back can be prevented thanks to new protrusions on urinal and trough screens.

This keeps urine off the floor and grouting where it would soak in and cause a bad smell, even with regular cleaning.

  1. Keep the pipes clear

Debris such as discarded bits of chewing gum or tissue can cause blockages in pipes resulting in slow flowing water or worse blockages and overflows. These can be minimised by choosing urinal or trough screens which can trap this sort of material and stop it getting into the drains.

  1. Get additional help

It’s not just the cleaners who help reduce the smells in washrooms, products which include the right enzymes – or odour controlling ‘good’ bacteria – can help eliminate malodourous ‘bad’ bacteria which feeds on urine. Cutting out the smell at source in this way is far more effective and environmentally friendly using an array of harsh chemicals.

Reduced chemical use has many advantages, not least from a health and safety point of view as there is less danger of spillage.

  1. You get what you pay for

It’s easy to think all products are the same, or that it’s not worth investing in washroom products. I think it’s worth paying that bit extra for quality as it can soon bring its rewards. For example, the best urinal screens will combine a strong air freshener, with splash back control and odour tackling enzymes; removing the need to buy separate products. Top quality products can last a month resulting in cost savings in the longer term and reducing the time spent cleaning the washroom and purchasing products.

…And to love you

Washrooms are crucial in maintaining building users’ health and wellbeing, especially through hand washing. However, a bad smell can put people off using them, or staying long enough to wash their hands properly – with the result that germs are more likely to be spread throughout a facility, with a likely impact on sickness and absenteeism.

The second part of the song lyric mentioned earlier is, of course, ‘…and to love you’. Now I’m not saying a better smelling washroom will make your visitors and staff fall in love with you, but by providing hygienic and lasting solutions, you and your building could certainly go up in their estimation!


Poor air quality can seriously damage your business health

Richard Norman, managing director, Indepth Hygiene Services and Chairman of the Building and Engineering Services Association – Ventilation Hygiene branch

In April the threat of air pollution was blown into the public consciousness courtesy of a wind from the Sahara that gathered up industrial pollution from Europe and mixed it with our own, local pollution.

The result of this cocktail was pollution warnings broadcast alongside weather forecasts, and health warnings for those with lung and heart conditions, asthma sufferers and the elderly.

Not since the 1950s has air pollution caused so much concern.

But now it has,  quite literally blown over , the irony is that indoor air quality in UK workplaces may be far worse than what was experienced recently across the South of England. We may be able to cope with a few days of outdoor pollution without too much difficulty, office workers can’t escape ‘bad air’ that will impact on their health and productivity day in day out.

According to the B&ES Guide to Good Practice TR/19 – Cleanliness of ventilation systems,   the limits of dirt/contamination above which cleaning would be recommended are:  for supply/recirculation systems – 60μm;  extract systems – 180μm; kitchen grease extract systems – 200μm as a mean across the system or 500μm in any single measurement.

Particles found in the air vary greatly in size. The greatest health hazard comes from the smallest particles – less than 10 microns across – which we can easily inhale into our lungs. Studies in the US  and Europe show a correlation between levels of particles in the air and the number of people who die each year.

Particles can also reduce capacity to resist infection. Studies show that particles can increase the number of hospital admissions and emergency department visits, school absences, lost work days and restricted activity days.

In addition, poor indoor air quality is believed to have an important causative or aggravating influence on allergic symptoms, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, airborne respiratory infections, and cardiovascular disease. Building dampness and mould has been associated with an approximately 30 to 50% increase in a variety of respiratory and asthma-related health outcomes.

Under The Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations, building owners and managers have a legal obligation to ensure that enclosed workplaces are ventilated with fresh, purified air.  And poor air quality can have a seriously detrimental effect on staff.  It can affect employee performance due to lack of concentration, low energy levels and wellbeing, and can lead to an increase in sick days.  Research has shown that the size of the effect of poor air quality on most aspects of office work performance appears to be as high as 6–9%.

In 1983, The World Health Organization (WHO) defined sick building syndrome as a disease caused by exposure to low levels of indoor air contaminants on a recurring basis

In the WHO European Region alone, exposure to particulate matter (PM) decreases the life expectancy of every person by an average of almost 1 year, mostly due to increased risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and lung cancer.

The WHO also states:  ‘Healthy indoor air is recognized as a basic right. People spend a large part of their time each day indoors: in homes, offices, schools, health care facilities, or other private or public buildings. The quality of the air they breathe in those buildings is an important determinant of their health and well-being. The inadequate control of indoor air quality therefore creates a considerable health burden. Indoor air pollution – such as from dampness and mould, chemicals and other biological agents – is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide’

According to the WHO the prevalence of symptoms of the sick-building syndrome has been associated with the characteristics of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. On average, the prevalence of such symptoms is higher in air-conditioned than in naturally ventilated buildings, independent of humidification (Mendell, Smith, 1990; Seppen, Fisk, 2002). The evidence suggests that better hygiene, commissioning, operation and maintenance of air-handling systems is particularly important in reducing the negative effects of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems (Mendell, Smith, 1990; Sieber et al., 1996; Seppen, Fisk, Mendell, 1999; Mendell et al., 2003, 2006, 2008).

In his report, Derek J.Clements-Croome, Professor of Construction Engineering, The University of Reading, UK  says: “It is a much higher cost to employ people than it is to maintain and operate a building, hence spending money on improving the work environment is the most cost effective way of improving productivity – Premises costs for maintenance, energy, cleaning and administration are only about 5% of staff costs.” He also believes that productivity could be improved by 4 to 10% by improving the office environmental conditions.

Absenteeism costs the UK economy £12bn every year. A large proportion of these incidents will be caused or at least exacerbated by poor indoor air quality.

The evidence is clear,  fighting pollution from the inside will improve not only the health and performance of your employees, but your business too.