Many offices that have stood vacant are finally beginning to see the return of their employees. However, even with a vaccinated population and basic PPE measures in place, the risk of cross-infection persists, and airborne illnesses are only one part of the problem.
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have drawn attention to the quality of our indoor air and the role it plays in the spread of airborne viruses in the workplace, we continue to face serious indoor air safety and health challenges for which there is no vaccine — indoor air pollution.
Poor indoor air is risky business
Employees spend approximately 90% of their time indoors1, exposed to harmful indoor air pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene, ethylene glycol, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and carbon monoxide (CO) fumes. Other indoor air pollutants like VOCs emitted by electronic equipment such as computers, photocopiers, and printers2 can reduce an employee’s ability to respond to the day-to-day demands of their work3,4, leading to fatigue, headaches, diminished mental and physical performance, and even respiratory issues. In fact, poor indoor air quality has been shown to reduce the performance of office workers by between 6-9%.5
Traditionally, businesses have worked hard to ensure a strict regime of attendance and punctuality, but presenteeism — the phenomenon of staff coming to work despite having an infectious illness — has a major impact on the productivity and wellbeing of healthy employees. According to a 2019 study, 82% of UK workers reported contracting an infection from their workplace6.
Benefits of good indoor air quality at work
The global pandemic may have ushered in a whole new meaning to workplace health and safety, but employee wellbeing is a priority for all businesses. By treating the indoor air to ensure it is free of harmful particulates, fumes, germs, and bacteria, employees will feel reassured that their health and wellbeing is valued. Businesses will also have an advantage over their competitors, setting them apart when attracting new talent.
3 Ways to help improve your indoor air quality
While cleaning surfaces can help reduce the build-up of dust and other allergens, there are other methods of improving indoor air quality in the workplace.
1. Maintain your HVAC system
Regular maintenance of HVAC systems in offices is crucial to ensuring the air is clean and fresh. Filters should be replaced timeously and units serviced to ensure that harmful biological pollutants are not being blown into the room.
2. Keep it clean
Aldehydes and VOCs that are often found in carpets7 can cause respiratory symptoms among office workers as well as impaired productivity8. All carpets should be cleaned with a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter twice a week to help reduce allergens and pollutants.
3. Install an air decontamination system
While many traditional air purifiers may filter allergens and neutralize some gases and odors, not all have the capabilities to effectively decontaminate the air. Indoor air safety technology can help create a healthier working environment with fresh, clean air.
The importance of indoor air quality at work
While health and safety protocols are easy enough to enforce in the office, the quality of the air employees breathe during working hours is considerably more difficult to control. Treating air that is shared and recirculated requires specialized technology that is capable of maintaining high levels of indoor air quality to ensure not only physical health, but also mental performance, comfort, safety, and quality of life for staff.
As businesses and their staff return to work, implementing clean air technology as an added safety measure is a long-term investment that can help future-proof the office from indoor air pollution and airborne viruses, including the common cold and seasonal flu. Simply put: Investing in clean air is good for business.
- Klepeis, N.E. et al. “The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants”. Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology vol. 11, 2001:231-52
- H. Destaillats, R.L. Maddalena, B.C. Singer, A.T. Hodgson, T.E. McKone, Indoor pollutants emitted by office equipment: A review of reported data and information needs, Atmospheric Environment 42(7) (2008) 1371-1388.
- C. He, L. Morawska, L. Taplin, Particle emission characteristics of office printers, Environmental science & technology 41(17) (2007) 6039-6045.
- N. Kagi, S. Fujii, Y. Horiba, N. Namiki, Y. Ohtani, H. Emi, H. Tamura, Y.S. Kim, Indoor air quality for chemical and ultrafine particle contaminants from printers, Building and Environment 42(5) (2007) 1949-1954.
- D.P. Wyon, The effects of indoor air quality on performance and productivity, Indoor air 14 (2004) 92-101.
- BMC Public Health. “A systematic review of infectious illness Presenteeism: prevalence, reasons and risk factors” https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-7138-x
- D. Campagnolo, D.E. Saraga, A. Cattaneo, A. Spinazzè, C. Mandin, R. Mabilia, E. Perreca, I. Sakellaris, N. Canha, V.G. Mihucz, VOCs and aldehydes source identification in European office buildings-The OFFICAIR study, Building and Environment 115 (2017) 18-24.
- I. Sakellaris, D. Saraga, C. Mandin, Y. de Kluizenaar, S. Fossati, A. Spinazzè, A. Cattaneo, V. Mihucz, T. Szigeti, E. de Oliveira Fernandes, Association of subjective health symptoms with indoor air quality in European office buildings: The OFFICAIR project, Indoor air (2020).