Australia’s indoor air quality crisis: The health of our elderly population is at risk

Mr Andrew Stone, Managing Director Pacific at Rentokil Initial

In this guest post, Andrew Stone, Managing Director of Pacific at Rentokil Initial, explains the importance of ensuring indoor air quality for residential aged care and how providers in the UK have adopted new technology to provide a safe, clean and odour-free environment.

Globally, there are an estimated 3.8 million premature deaths[i] caused by indoor air pollution each year, with an untold number of us suffering harm to our health and wellbeing every day — simply because of the poor quality of the air we breathe while inside.

Here in Australia, our vulnerable elderly population is most at risk from this indoor air quality crisis – particularly those who reside in aged care facilities. Spending up to 20 hours a day indoors[ii], many elderly aged care residents not only miss out on the benefits of fresh, clean air but are also exposed to low ventilation within high footfall areas in aged care homes.

Access to fresh air can be particularly difficult for residents with mobility limitations or for those living in dementia wards with limited access to natural ventilation for security reasons. This leaves older Australians and aged care workers, increasingly exposed to dirty, toxic and sick air, with pollutants ranging from particulates, dust and pollen to gases and smoke as well as viruses, bacteria, mould, fumes, ammonia, and cleaning chemicals.

It has become globally accepted by the World Health Organisation that COVID-19 can be transmitted through the air we breathe, but concerningly, Australian aged care facilities still have no formal air hygiene practices in place or guidelines to follow.

While vaccination and other precautionary measures – including PPE, mask-wearing, surface and hand hygiene – go some way in protecting both aged care residents, staff and visitors against airborne viruses and biological pathogens such as COVID-19, these are not enough. 

In the UK, leading aged care providers such as Hawthorn Court, Majesticare and Manucourt have all adopted innovative new technological solutions in order to maintain a high standard of indoor air quality, providing a safe, clean and odour-free environment for both residents and their caregivers.

By choosing to invest in air purification devices that decontaminate indoor air via UV-C technology, UK aged care providers go beyond the bare minimum of traditional HEPA filtration, utilising evolved technology to provide real-time air decontamination and protection from airborne viruses and bacteria.

Australia should be looking to the actions of the international aged care sector as they lead the way out of the pandemic. Beyond COVID-19, many aged care providers in the UK are taking a longer-term view on managing indoor air quality, prioritising greater protection for those residents with acute respiratory conditions and illnesses, and comfort and relief for allergy sufferers.

This is particularly important in environments where natural ventilation – including the opening of windows and doors – is not always possible. In Australia, our severe bushfire and hay fever seasons often require windows to remain closed, shutting out smoke, allergens, and extreme heat or cold to protect the respiratory health of residents. 

As restrictions continue to ease in NSW, the ACT and VIC, and with other states set to follow suit over the coming weeks and months, making these indoor spaces safer for residents, visitors and staff are crucial. This is why I am urging the aged care industry to take the critical issue of indoor air quality seriously and act now.

However, we know this isn’t an issue that can be addressed by providers alone. Establishing minimum indoor air quality standards and guidelines that can keep older Australians safe requires extensive dialogue and collaboration between industry, government agencies and air quality and ventilation experts.

Guidelines and standards are key to ensuring the long-term safety and efficacy of air quality devices. For example, devices should be installed and strategically placed by trained technicians wearing PPE, to account for natural ventilation, air conditioning, the flow of air and the breath zone. These trained technicians should also maintain the devices, removing the burden of resources on aged care staff. These considerations are crucial to ensuring devices deliver on their intention.

It’s only when we work together to improve the quality of our indoor air for our most vulnerable, that we can start to breathe easy.

To find out more, register here for Rentokil Initial’s Aged Care Indoor Air Summit – an informational seminar exploring the implications and risks of poor indoor air quality within Australia’s aged care facilities.

[i] World Health Organization. “Household air pollution and health.” WHO. 2018.  

[ii] Mendes, A. et al. “Results of a Pilot Study in Elderly Care Centers in Portugal”. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health A, 76:4-5 (2013): 333-344, DOI: 10.1080/15287394.2013.757213


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