By Heather Haas
Much like clean water, clean air is something Americans tend to take for granted, but shouldn’t. When we think about air pollution, smog covered cities often spring to mind, but we don’t often stop to consider indoor air pollution. Most people spend upwards of 90% of their time indoors, making indoor air quality a major factor in human health. Some indoor air pollution sources seem obvious, like fumes from chemicals, or some process of industry, but any indoor space can suffer from pollution and improper ventilation, even your office.
I’m not just talking about the dreaded toxic mold either. Any building with insufficient ventilation, or air exchange, can cause occupants to suffer from allergic symptoms (and worse). If you notice that your office has excessive dust, or employees complain of allergies or burning eyes, you might want to investigate further. Some employees may suffer more than others, but pay attention to illness rates for an indication that something might be amiss (remember, your employees might be fearful of complaining).
Poor ventilation can lead to increased absenteeism and more illness among building occupants. Improper ventilation allows for a buildup of germs, allergens, and carbon dioxide. In buildings with limited air exchange, even something minor, like a person’s perfume, can become a nuisance and lead to irritation. Modern furniture and carpeting may also release what are called volatile organic compounds (often abbreviated as VOCs). Some laser printer release particulate into that air that employees should not be breathing. Proper ventilation disperses these pollutants, rendering them fairly harmless.
Having good ventilation can also boost employee productivity. According to the website for the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Scientific Findings Resource Bank (IAQ-SFRB) of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: “Work performance may be improved from a few percent to possibly as much as 10% by providing superior indoor environmental quality (IEQ). The economic benefits of the work performance improvements will often far outweigh the costs of providing better IEQ.”
Simple ways to improve the air quality in your office include moving printers and copiers away from employee workspaces along with regular cleaning and maintenance of the facility. A properly sized, maintained, and operated HVAC system can make a major difference in the air quality of a building. Additionally, for buildings with air flow trouble, vents and filters that help move air into and out of a building are relatively affordable and easy to install. Additional steps to help improve air quality could include placing plants around the building (they use the carbon dioxide and provide oxygen), choosing furnishings and building materials (including paint and carpeting) that are low emitters of VOCs, and using cleaning products that are free of harsh chemicals. Professionals are also available to test the air quality and help find the best solution. The Indoor Air Quality Association is one source to locate outside help.
Chances are good there is something you can do to improve the air inside your office regardless of its current quality. Any steps you take are sure to be appreciated by everyone that spends their days breathing in your building. Clean air is always a worthwhile investment, and you get happier, healthier, and more productive employees as a result. You and everyone around you must breath all day long, don’t take the cleanliness of the air for granted!