Keeping Office Air Quality Healthy this Winter
Posted in Air Quality, on November 22, 2019
Just like our homes, our workplaces have measurable indoor air quality that affects our daily life. And, just like our homes, this indoor air quality can change and shift throughout the year, which can lead to problems for people working and visiting the building. Employers have a duty under the law to provide a safe working environment - which includes good air quality - and so as we go into the winter months, it’s a good time to pay attention to indoor air quality and put into place health and safety procedures to help protect yourself and your employees.
Why is Air Quality Worse at the Office in the Winter?
Air quality evolves all year long; environmental changes like humidity, temperature, plant life, and traffic can vary seasonally and cause a shift in your indoor air environment. At the office, things like new furniture, carpets, poor ventilation and other material and physical changes to the building can also affect indoor air quality. Add to this mechanical or technological equipment, specialty machines or chemicals, as well as the many employees and visitors a workplace can host, and you can quickly see how the the office can be a highly complex indoor air environment.
However, the biggest reason that air quality tests often fail during the winter months is because of air circulation and ventilation. During the winter, air circulation decreases in many buildings as windows and doors stay tightly shut, preventing fresh air from coming in and refreshing the environment. Airborne pollutants can easily settle and accumulate in this type of environment, causing discomfort and even illness. When it comes to new buildings, this may be even more of a problem, since modern building codes have resulted in tighter, less permeable structures.
How does Poor Air Quality in the Office Affect my Staff?
While the quality of indoor air at home is often the prime focus of researchers and companies like SafeAir, indoor air quality at the office is, for good reasons, a growing area of concern for both scientists and employers.
Poor air quality can be difficult to spot - unlike some other types of more visible pollution, like car exhaust or a chemical spill, it’s not often easy to see with the naked eye, nor are its effects clear and easy to link. Common complaints from employees working in poor indoor air quality environments include:
- itchy, watery eyes
- sneezing, stuffed, or runny nose
Sound familiar? The winter is also prime cold and flu season, and with such similar effects, the culprit can be difficult to discern. But beyond the physical effects, poor indoor air quality can also have a huge effect on the productivity, efficiency and absenteeism of your staff.
A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US quantified the effect of air pollution on the productivity of pear pickers and found that, as particulate matter increased, the productivity of the pickers went down by 3-5%. While you may not be picking pears on a daily basis, the logic remains the same: poor indoor air quality in the office has an adverse affect on worker productivity.
In another study, office workers were tested under two different conditions: one was in a ‘typical’ office, the other in an enhanced ‘green’ office, which featured better ventilation and fewer emissions and carbon dioxide. Results of this study showed that employees in the ‘green’ office performed 61% better than in the ‘typical’ office conditions!
Will Air Quality Testing Interfere with my Staff?
One of the biggest perceived barriers to indoor air quality improvement is the cost and disruption employers believe that testing will cause. Many workplaces would rather risk a dip in productivity than start a process they fear could disrupt work flow. The good news is that air quality testing and improvements can be done with minimal disruption to your staff - and solutions are often low cost and non-invasive.
At SafeAir, we’re happy to work around your busy schedule to plan and perform air quality tests when it’s most convenient for your staff. Many air quality tests are no more complicated than taking air samples and inspecting HVAC and ventilation equipment, which can be performed unobtrusively during office hours. Results from our tests are are interpreted by a third-party laboratory, resulting in impartial results that pin-point the exact issues that affect your workplace. Once we identify the challenges your workplace faces, we’ll make suggestions for changes or modifications on both the micro and macro levels.
What can we do as a Team to Improve Air Quality at the Office?
Indoor air quality is often a team effort - offices are made up of employees with varied skills and knowledge, and by pooling these resources, you can create positive changes that affect the entire workplace.
As a team there are a few easy changes you can make today that can have an immediate affect on you and your colleague’s health.
- Have a scent-free office: Many people are negatively affected by the compounds found within perfume, cologne, and body sprays.
- Install a welcome mat: A mat at the main entrance to your office can help trap pollutants and particles and keep them from getting tracked around.
- Keep humidity around 50%: High humidity can cause problems like mold growth, while low humidity can dry out skin and airways.
- Choose cleaning products with low VOCs: Many offices are cleaned with products that include harsh chemicals or artificial scents, which can be harmful to your colleagues. Switch to low VOC or scent free cleaning products to improve your indoor air quality.
- Start a Health and Safety Committee and include indoor air quality as a focus.
Improve your Office with SafeAir
Paying attention to the indoor air quality of your office will help you work better and more efficiently. At SafeAir, our exclusive focus on the indoor air quality of residential and commercial buildings for the last decade has had us helping owners and managers of buildings of all shapes, sizes, and needs improve their working environment. If you have questions about your workplace’s indoor air quality, get in touch! For more information on our products and services, give us a call at 416-414-5690 to book your free consultation.