Why Your Office Air Quality Matters
Yesterday, France set new regulations for the indoor air quality of daycares and schools. In December, the Biden-Harris Administration announced five new commitments to push the work of their March 2022 Clean Air in Buildings Challenge even further. While indoor air quality has long been a concern of facility managers, it was rarely discussed in the office before the pandemic. However, the spread of COVID-19 has spotlighted the topic in a way that's unlikely to dissipate any time soon.
The impacts of poor air quality are already well-established: we know breathing unclean air is detrimental to our health. As Jeff Stripp, chief revenue officer of Zogics, stated: "A growing body of scientific evidence notes that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air."
With this being said, we're now living in a time when employee wellbeing is top of mind for both employees and employers alike, which means the health of workplace environments should be a critical factor in these efforts. So, what can organizations do and what should they be looking for to improve their office air quality?
Air Quality in the Office: What to Measure and Why
Carbon dioxide, humidity and virus risk are the three important air quality factors to monitor, according to Dusty Duistermars, managing director, partner product strategy and innovation at JLL Technologies. Although air-borne viruses are a current focus of attention, Duistermars points to CO2 levels as an equally concerning factor in air quality.
"Even before COVID, higher CO2 levels had been found to bring about many symptoms identified in Sick Building Syndrome, and have a huge impact on people's health and their ability to concentrate and be productive. Monitoring CO2 indoors has already been confirmed to reduce these effects," he said. Tiredness, grogginess and poor concentration are common effects of higher CO2 levels, continued Duistermars.
Humidity levels are also commonly-measured, with dry air being a significant complaint among office workers. This is concerning as low humidity levels are known to increase viral risk, raising the likelihood of others catching a cold or worse if one sick employee enters the office. However, high humidity is no better. According to Duistermars, it can "contribute to the growth and spread of unhealthy biological pollutants."
Duistermars warns against taking any measurement in isolation, however. He noted the naturally occurring differences in CO2 levels between an empty and a fully occupied office as an example, saying: "This is why it's important to layer on other data like occupancy when measuring IAQ [indoor air quality], so you can understand if the number of people in a space — whether that's an office floor, a meeting room, or a bathroom — is impacting the quality of the air."
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Consistent and continuous measurement helps establish a baseline to better highlight when issues arise or when air qualities are at normal levels, he continued.
The Technology to Monitor Air Quality
A number of tools and devices can help brands monitor the air quality of their business, ranging from low-fi CO2 monitors to AI-based building intelligence platforms which send out maintenance alerts and automate reporting.
The IoT and the emergence of smart buildings has elevated the traditional air quality sensors, too. In an interview with Forbes, Buildings IOT CEO, Brian Turner, said: "Indoor air quality is quickly turning into indoor environment quality...The sensors are not just monitoring gas levels anymore, they are also monitoring things like light levels, sound levels and people counting."
How to Improve Office Air Quality
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a series of actions building occupants should take to improve air quality. The list complemented a 1997 publication titled "An Office Building Occupants Guide to Indoor Air Quality." Below are some of their suggestions.
- Unblock Air Vents — Air vents should always be open and unblocked to allow the air to circulate within the office. Remove any furniture, boxes or other items to allow for free flow of air.
- Clean Spills – Accidents happen in offices. Employees could spill their coffee, or a water tower could be knocked over, for example. Leaving these spills unattended increases humidity, which may lead to the growth of mold or mildew.
- Open Windows: Windows should be opened for a couple of hours a day, weather permitting. Opening office windows, especially in a way that increases cross-ventilation, allows stale air to leave the building and fresh air to enter.
- Clean or Replace Air Filters — Clogged or poorly installed air filters are useless in the office. Maintain a regular schedule to monitor, clean and change all air filters.
- Ensure Exhaust Fans Work — Make sure exhaust fans in bathrooms are working and running during hours of occupation.
- Provide Feedback Mechanisms — Create a method for employees to provide feedback and clearly communicate any issues they may have.
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