Logo - CCME
Banner Main – Digital Issue

The Silent Killer

Are inadequate maintenance mechanisms and improper design considerations impacting carbon monoxide-abatement schemes in underground parking lots across the GCC region? Hannah Jo Uy has the story…

| | Oct 16, 2019 | 7:23 pm
Share this story

Dr Farheen Khanum

A silent killer. That is how Dr Farheen Khanum, Environmental Geography, Director, Environment, Mruna DWC, describes carbon monoxide. Everyone could be a potential victim of this colourless, odourless gas, adds Syed Taqi, Managing Partner, Green Tech, considering it is commonly present in underground parking lots that do not have the proper ventilation in place to remove the exhaust coming from vehicles. “There is a certain level we can inhale, but when it goes above those safe levels, it is very harmful,” Taqi explains, “You cannot feel it, but when you are inhaling it over a period of time, it has very serious consequences.”

Syed Taqi

Those health-related consequences, Dr Khanum says, include shortness of breath, heart problems and nausea. “I have seen so many issues that could lead to suffocation due to insufficient air ventilation,” she says, adding that it is an issue commonly seen in underground and multi- storey parking lots in high-rises. People are not taking it into consideration, she says. They could be sleeping or locked up in their car, with the AC running, she adds.

Given the odourless nature of the gas, she says, people are often not aware of its negative impact, until it’s too late. In tragic instances, it has been too late, she says, recalling a news report of a child having died in a locked car, owing to poor ventilation.

Taqi says that children are truly most at risk and susceptible to CO poisoning, adding that effects could be easily felt if unsuspecting shoppers in malls or commercial developments would have to walk a long distance from where they have parked to the building. “If there are no systems or sensors installed, it could cause a lot of health problems, maybe even death, if exposed for prolonged periods,” he says, underlining the importance of safety measures within buildings.

Atul Jayanth

In view of the potentially chilling consequences, Atul Jayanth, Regional Sales Manager-GCC, Greystone Energy Systems, points out that implementation of carbon monoxide management solutions is an essential requirement for all facilities that handle movement of high volumes of vehicles and human beings, such as enclosed or underground car parks within shopping malls, commercial buildings and residences. He adds that greater attention and involvement of all stakeholders, including owners, building services personnel and FM companies are necessary. “It is imperative to educate every one of the dangers of inferior CO measurement and control, as well as the potential consequences,” he says. “Fortunately, most major stakeholders are aware of the necessary industry standards and regulations, which are followed at the time of new construction or retrofit.”

REGULATIONS AND INDUSTRY PRACTICES

Brian Suggitt, Managing Director, Systemair, also highlights the growing attention being placed on the issue, saying that there has been definitive awareness on the topic, with many consultants doing their due diligence by seeking advice from specialist companies that have many years of experience, prior to design, which would then be substantiated by CFD analysis.

Brian Suggitt

To ensure proper design, a lot of features must be taken into consideration by consultants, Jayanth says, emphasising that requirements vary according to the type of car park, whether it is enclosed, partially ventilated or has other unique features. The type and surface area of the car park and the number of car park levels are also factored into the design and implementation of the CO control system. Suggitt adds that in each project, the size of the car park and active area of the car park are important to the level of ventilation and air movement required. “Size and foot traffic in malls is obviously substantially more than in residential towers, so consequent traffic flow is higher,” he explains. “All aspects of required ventilation and air movement have to be considered as well as how the fresh air will be introduced and the contaminated air removed.” As such, Jayanth points out that correct design and installation is of prime importance as “any errors can be detrimental to an optimal system, leaving people potentially exposed to lethal levels of CO”.

Jayanth says that many countries in the GCC region and the Middle East also have regulations that adhere to standards and codes prescribed by organisations such as ASHRAE, which helps in promoting better quality designs. “The focus is on maintaining acceptable air quality by ensuring the presence of ventilation systems that monitor and perform the task of air quality (CO) control,” he says.

Elaborating on existing regulations, Suggitt explains that the principles of tunnel ventilation were originally the basis for usage of induction fans within enclosed car park areas. “Overall, CPV in the region is designed using BS7346 part 7,” he says, “whereas tunnel ventilation utilises PIARC principles. Within tunnel ventilation, it is imperative to know the traffic flow, traffic direction, shape of the tunnel and also the demographics of the type of vehicles the tunnel is designed for. In both cases, assumed fire positions and sizes of fires have to be incorporated.” Suggitt adds that in the GCC region, while some countries allow for the use of induction fans, as part of the design of the car park ventilation, in other countries, only the use of ducted systems is allowed. “Overall, for countries where tunnel ventilation is required, PIARC principles and induction fans are generally accepted, with little alternative,” he says.

Paul Groves

Also touching on regulation is Paul Groves, Business Development Manager, Khansaheb Industries for Spiralite, who points out that in relation to mechanically ventilated car parks, the Al Sa’fat Green Building Regulations mandates a mechanical ventilation system that will provide six air changes per hour (ACH) for general ventilation on all levels and 10 ACH on the first floor, in the event of a fire. Taqi adds that under the Green Building regulations, installation for CO sensors is mandatory, as they are designed to sense carbon monoxide, which would then give signal for the ventilation to switch on to provide three, six or 10 air changes, depending on the movement of the cars.

GAPS IN THE CHAIN

Groves says that while, undoubtedly, there are a number of regulations in place, there is scope for improvement when it comes to enforcement. “MEP consultants typically don’t enforce spec or design, as their clients don’t include that in their scope or budgets,” he says. “As a result, contractors often deviate under the convenient guise of ‘value engineering’, also known as ‘lowest cost and quality, where we won’t be caught and, if we are, that the penalties are less than the increased margins’.”

Suggitt adds that historically, shortcuts are made within car park ventilation systems by breaking down total solution elements in a bid to reduce cost. The supply and exhaust fans, jet fans, controls, CO sensors and CFD analysis all come from different sources. “The parties concerned for construction then have to rely on everyone providing exactly what is required for the total system to work in the manner planned and envisaged,” he says. “It never does, then the jet fan system gets a bad name, which it does not deserve. The whole system – from design to supply of all component parts – should come from one source.”

Adding to this, Taqi says that despite clear regulations in place to ensure sensors are installed, he has seen many sensors in many car parks to be “nothing more than a dummy in the wall”. In the event that there are systems present, he says, improper installation has deemed it unreliable. “We are following what is written in the specification, but some specifications are not designed properly,” he says, adding that this is due to consultants being unaware of proper design, contractors looking to save money and clients being unaware of the consequences. “MEP contractors are responsible for installing the system properly,” he says, “but this is rarely the case.” Hussain says he has seen sensors installed at a height of one metre or less. “It should be 1.5 to 2 metres,” he says. “If it is less, the car can hit it, and if it is more, the sensor does not matter. Installing the sensors at the proper height should be made mandatory.”

THE BIGGEST CULPRIT: MAINTENANCE

Jeff Foster

While design and installation are vital issues, the lack of a proper maintenance scheme has been viewed as potentially the biggest culprit for the unreliable carbon monoxide systems in the built-environment today. Jeff Foster, Business Development Manager, Greystone Energy Systems Inc., says that for the most part, regulations, such as those dictated by ASHRAE and enforced by engineers and municipal Civil Defense, limit pre- installation or installation deficiencies. However, he says, typically, it is over time that the systems seem to deteriorate, owing to the maintenance personnel not following the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance procedures. “I have seen installations that may have been designed, installed and commissioned properly and yet, over many months, have never been considered or maintained,” he says.

Suggitt shares the same observation. “When buildings are designed to high levels of product and systems to enhance the best IEQ, they are expected to be maintained to hold that level,” he says. “Unfortunately, one of the major issues is the lack of specific maintenance for the upkeep of a building or its systems. For example, once a building has achieved a LEED certification, from the day it receives that certification it is never checked for continual compliance.”

Weighing in is Jayanth, who says the biggest gap that should be highlighted is post-installation calibration and maintenance. “Most often, CO sensors are forgotten after installation,” he says. “In this region, as the sensors are typically installed in harsh conditions, with heat, humidity and dust, the concept of maintenance is extremely important.” Jayanth says that the causes for lapses in this regard include hesitation to invest in the expense of calibration services as well as lack of understanding among stakeholders with regard to the importance of calibration and subsequent consequences for not doing so. “Calibration plays an important role in ensuring longevity and optimal performance of the sensor,” he says. “However, it is overlooked in many cases, resulting in sensors that do not perform optimally, which in turn affect the entire process of air quality management. The onus on maintenance would lie on both the owners and FM providers.”

Foster points out that most carbon monoxide detector manufacturers provide their own calibration kits and the step-by-step procedure to perform the recommended annual calibration of their CO sensors. He adds that most property owners have trained personnel in-house fully capable of performing this task. However, Taqi says that too often, such measures are not being taken by the FM team managing the property. “I am seeing very few people doing it,” he says. “It has to be made mandatory. If sensors are not activated, the system will not be working. Periodic calibration must be done at every site, the sensors have to be checked – it is about saving lives.”

REGULATION

In view of these prevailing issues, Taqi believes the industry would greatly benefit if the government would implement a stronger regulatory scheme to mitigate bad practices related to CO systems and IEQ, and take safety to the next level by focusing on two key aspects. Firstly, to address improper design and installation of CO sensors, Taqi recommends that the specification for CO systems and sensors should come from authorities and be made mandatory in order to maintain a certain standard and ensure equipment choice and installation are suitable to address the needs of the project. Secondly, Taqi says that there should be stricter regulations for mandatory building inspection to ensure sensors are operating as intended. He says an authority should come in and conduct inspections, else people take it for granted. There are instances where the sensors are available, but they are not working or have not been calibrated properly, he says. “I would recommend that the Civil Defense or the local municipality takes control and monitors that the system is in place and is maintained periodically,” he says. “Coming to the IoT era, the levels can be easily monitored over the cloud. We’ve got the solutions, it needs the right approach, and along with it for tougher, and more stringent rules to be practiced when it comes to life safety and IEQ in buildings. It’s a safety issue.”

Jayanth also believes that a regulatory framework that includes regular inspections of building systems would ensure better practices. Foster adds, “I would like to see mandatory calibration, requiring the maintenance of records, as well as periodic inspections, perhaps by the local Civil Defense.”

Groves says that in Dubai, there is much more concern for compliance with fire and smoke regulations (DCD), where there is very little deviation from the required standards, due to the incidents of fires and the actions of DCD in driving specifications and enforcement. “Given the health and other risks, the same approach should be taken for carbon monoxide abatement,” he says.

AWARENESS NEEDED TO DRIVE INVESTMENT

With urgency in his voice, Groves points out how the gaps in the design and specification; in the selection and installation process; in the compliance and enforcement process; in the measuring and monitoring process and in the operation and maintenance process are all severely compromising IEQ. “The main problem is the exclusion of the consultants beyond the design and specification stage,” he says.

Pamela Chikhani

Pamela Chikhani, General Manager, Secure Parking, is also one that advocates a holistic approach, speaking from the perspective of an FM provider, who has often had to inherit poor design of consultants. “A lot of smart clients involve us from the design stages of the building and take our recommendation and actually apply them,” she says. “But, some involve us too late, which is not the right way, because we can only do small changes that are cosmetic rather than fundamental. The fundamental changes, advice, experience and feedback should be given at the design stage – this is where our added value is most effective.” As such, Chikhani says the company is working on educating project owners, as well as consultants and contractors on the importance of collaboration.

Dr Khanum also discusses the importance of having the correct approach. “Consultants have to make clients aware,” she says. “The owner of the building should know about how important a factor it is to consider [proper IEQ]”. For Groves, educating the market is truly vital, considering the level of investment and awareness with many aspects of ventilation is far too low. “I had a meeting with the mechanical team and chairman of a large and very prestigious hospital group in Dubai, and they were actually bragging that they had never cleaned inside their ductwork, completely contrary to all relevant standards and regulations and particularly alarming in what should be a sterile environment,” he says. “Their casual approach was caused, to a large extent, by a lack of awareness of what the inside of a duct looks like after several years of not being cleaned and the impact that has on the wellness of the building occupiers – in this case, the patients!”

Groves says that stronger engagement with clients can also help overcome contractors “value-engineering out” innovations owing to budgetary pressures. “We have found that the most effective solution, by far, is to secure client approval for the solution and for the client, be it an owner, developer or occupant, to drive compliance and enforcement,” he says.

Adding to this, Foster says that property owners must be made aware by the relevant departments – either internal maintenance or external FM companies – that their systems are no longer capable of proper CO control. “I have even seen buildings where the car park ventilation was simply turned on, wasting valuable energy and costing unnecessary expenses,” he says. “By not maintaining the system, not only are you risking the health and well-being of the occupants, your equipment may be working unnecessarily, causing frequent breakdowns and higher energy costs.”

To this end, Chikhani highlights the hidden benefits of investing in specialised consultancy. “You think it’s a cost,” she says, “but if you pay a little bit for the advisory you will save a lot of headache down the line from devising the wrong parking strategy and driving away business from your clients. The consultancy charges are nothing to what problems might come up when the car park is live.” Taqi is in agreement, pointing out that at its core, lack of awareness breeds bad practices, asking, “What is the level of investment when you are taking into consideration life-safety measures?”


Share this story

Feedback for this story

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *