Is there a legal requirement for duct cleaning?

If you’re in a commercial property or publically funded body, the chances are that you’ll have a network of ductwork within the walls and ceilings of your property.

There are plenty of rules regarding safety that applies to construction and installation of equipment in buildings.

However the importance of maintenance is becoming more and more recognized and we list below some relevant legislation and guidance which is by no means exhaustive.

Health & Safety at Work Act 1974  

This states that employers or persons concerned with the premises owe the “common duty of care” both to employees and others who may use or visit the premises. They are required to exercise this duty “so far as is reasonably practical”.

The Workplace Heath, Safety & Welfare Regulations 1992.

States that “Effective and suitable provision shall be made to ensure that every enclosed workplace is ventilated by a sufficient quantity of fresh or purified air remains intact”.
The associated Approved Code of Practice gives “practical advice on how to comply with the law”. For ventilation, it states in ACOP6 (52): Regulation 6, that mechanical ventilation systems (including air conditioning systems) should be regularly and adequately cleaned. They should also be properly tested and maintained to ensure that they are kept free from anything which may contaminate the air.
The associated ACOP5 (41) Regulation 5, has been revised and reads; An “efficient state” means that the workplace and the equipment, devices and systems mentioned in these Regulations should be free of faults likely to affect the health, safety and welfare of workers and provide an adequate level of hygiene. If a potentially dangerous defect is discovered, the defect should be rectified.

The Occupiers Liability Act 1984

Imposes a duty of care on an occupier of premises to prevent (so far as reasonably practical) risk to others of injury, which includes any disease and impairment of physical or mental condition.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations

This requires an employer to make a formal assessment of health risk from hazardous substances, which includes human pathogens or any dusts present in substantial quantities in the air. Regulation 7 (1) requires the employer to prevent exposure of his employees to substances hazardous to health, or where this is not practical, to ensure that any exposure is adequately controlled.

So the short answer to the question regarding is there a legal requirement is YES!!

Why is it so important?

The Regulations which stipulate the requirements for ductwork cleaning are there for a very good reason.
Over time, the passage and movement of air through the ductwork can result in a buildup of debris and dust which in turn encourages mould and bacteria to grow. This is particularly the case when the temperature is warm or there is humidity.

When growth of bacterial or mould occurs, the air that passes over them and into the building can carry these pathogens into the building and ultimately the workspace.

Unhygienic ducts have been proven to be one of the main causes of Sick Building Syndrome, a situation where all of the staff continuously suffer from minor illnesses such as viruses, flu and colds as well as allergies.

In clinical environments such as hospitals the potential effects can be even worse with MRSA and other infections taking hold as a result.

One study from the Environmental Protection Agency showed that the air inside a building can be as much as 70 times more polluted than the air outside. This figure highlights just why duct cleaning is such an essential task.

Conclusion

Ductwork cleaning is an essential part of property maintenance and the responsibility of every employer to make sure that they’re properly protecting their staff.

Failing to meet the legal requirements could mean not just illness amongst staff but also prosecution for those responsible.

Insurance companies are becoming increasingly interested in how employers maintain their buildings and equipment. In the event of an employee claim or fire, insurers will ask for evidence of suitable and effective maintenance. If this is not available then claims could be rejected.


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