Tackling the airborne threat in office environments
23 January 2013
Research has shown that air in commercial office buildings can be up to 10 times more polluted than outside air. Christian Lickfett, director of Allergy Cosmos suggests what measures employers can take to improve air quality in the workplace
High levels of air pollution in offices are due to a combination of ultra fine pollution from work processes, 'offgassing' from building materials, carpets and furniture; general bacteria and viruses; and standard airconditioning and ventilation systems bringing in polluted air, such as microparticles from traffic and industry pollution.
When you consider that employees spend eight or more hours a day at the office, five days a week, it's easy to see how poor air quality in the workplace might contribute to lower productivity and increased sick days. In fact, roughly 12 million sick days a year are taken due to asthma-related conditions, which are commonly triggered by poor indoor air quality.
Usually invisible, evidence of air pollution is normally only found indoors where it settles as dust or a layer of grime on furniture and other surfaces. In fact, air pollution is a complex mixture of liquid droplets and solid particles that are all around us.
Most employers are not aware of the severe impact that indoor air pollution can have on their employees' wellbeing, but poor indoor air quality is associated with a number of health problems, such as asthma and other allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity, respiratory problems, heart disease, and lung cancer.
And with most Britons spending a large proportion of the day indoors in an office environment, indoor air quality should be a major concern for businesses, building managers, tenants, and employees because it can impact on the health, comfort and productivity of building occupants.
Ensuring a safe and healthy environment through integrating air quality control into an office building's health and safety programme is an important step in countering the problem, thereby avoiding health claims, saving money from staff sick days and improving happiness and well being.
Air pollution takes root in an office from a variety of sources such as industrial and traffic pollution, pollen, dust mite allergens, building materials and furnishings, occupants' activities, and even from office equipment. We have all read about high levels of pollution in the UK's urban environments, but what is perhaps more surprising is that pollution 'micron' readings can be higher indoors than outside by busy roads. In offices air contaminants generated outdoors are frequently brought into the building through its own ventilation and air conditioning systems, and everyday activities like printing and copying can also produce further particles.
To avoid reduced productivity and with the number of allergy sufferers steadily increasing over the last two decades - employers must take measures to improve air quality in the workplace. This can be achieved through small improvements to office practice and layout to installing high quality and effective air purifiers.