Indoor air quality is crucial for the health, wellbeing, and comfort of all building occupants. Unfortunately, some indoor environments have been found to have levels of pollutants much higher than those found outside. These indoor pollutants can cause both short and long-term illnesses, poor productivity, more sick days, and, in some cases, even death. Therefore, it’s important to assess your office’s indoor air quality, identify potential pollutants common in workspaces, mitigate air quality factors, and improve office air quality.
Coined by the World Health Organization in the mid-eighties, the term sick building syndrome (SBS) describes a series of acute health and comfort effects that had no identifiable medical cause and were linked to time spent inside a building.
Common symptoms of sick building syndrome include:
While some causes of SBS are attributed to things like poor lighting and outdated computer displays, many of the problems can be traced to poor air quality. SBS is often a temporary condition (one that gets better once you leave the building). However, some buildings have bigger, longer-term issues that can cause the illness to persist. Improving air quality can significantly reduce the instances of SBS.
Ever since the 1989 US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report documented how badly indoor air can affect productivity and health, corporations in American have made improving office air quality a primary national, occupational concern.
Air quality measures how clean or polluted the air is, and it can refer to both indoor and outdoor air. Monitoring the quality of the air we breathe is necessary because polluted air can be bad for our health.
Indoor air quality is slightly different from outdoor air quality because we have more control over it. Additionally, around 90% of our time is spent inside and usually in an office environment. So it becomes the responsibility of employers and building managers to monitor and manage indoor air environments.
From a national business perspective, detrimental indoor air quality costs billions of dollars each year in lost productivity, medical insurance premiums, and increased sick days.
Many factors can contribute to a building’s air quality and are said to cause sick building syndrome; these include:
In addition to health effects, indoor air can greatly affect productivity and comfort. For example, if the smell in a workspace is powerful, you may find that some people have physical and mental reactions. Other elements, like when an air conditioner is broken or an office space is dimly lit, can slow down work and create discomfort.
Office managers should also look at overcrowding, sunlight or ceiling light glare, heavy drafts, the location of office equipment, noise levels, workspace ergonomics, office aesthetics and design, and stressors in the workplace, which can affect the overall work environment in many ways.
There are many different types of air pollutants. For example, air particulates might come from pest removal services, housekeeping, building renovations, furnishing sealants or finishings, the activities of the occupants, and building maintenance.
There are three main categories of pollutants:
When identifying pollutants, you should consider the level of risk or life-threatening elements that a pollutant has. For example, some contaminants, like radon, are more life-threatening than others. Prolonged radon exposure can worsen one’s health over time and eventually cause lung cancer.
Other contaminants, like carbon monoxide, can cause death when experienced at high levels. Not all contaminants are the same, and it is up to your office manager and building manager to work together to eliminate serious health risks.
Everyone should contribute to improving the indoor air quality in a building. From the workers to the OFFICE manager, building facility managers, and maintenance crew, improved air quality is a shared responsibility.
Here are 5 ways to improve air quality in your office space:
Your building’s HVAC and ventilation system are usually among the most significant contributors to indoor air cleanliness. Therefore, you’ll need to coordinate with the building management and other tenants to work out a solid plan for assessing HVAC system quality or improving the systems if air pollutants become a concern.
You may need to coordinate with other parties to set up regular HVAC assessments, even if it is to check on the office space arrangement or at times when your space will go through a remodel.
Your ventilation system will be bringing in air from the outside, so make sure that the outside air supply is adequate, not being blocked, and not bringing in excess levels of pollutants like carbon monoxide, pollen, or dust. Regular assessments will ensure that your system was designed and installed correctly.
Controlling the moisture and humidity in occupied spaces is important because biological contaminants can grow and thrive in places with moisture and dirt. On the flip side, if humidity levels are too low, your occupants may experience dry and irritated eyes, sinus issues, and irritated throat.
Implement a humidifier or a dehumidifier depending on your air quality needs. Other factors contributing to moisture levels include monitoring water-producing appliances, like refrigerators and ventilation equipment, and dumping out drain pans from humidifiers collecting water.
If you are finding that your air quality is being affected by uncontrollable gases, chemical pollutants, or viruses, you may need to consider adding specialized equipment which can clean the air.
A specialized filtration system can be easily plugged in with no installation required. High-quality portable air filtration systems, like ours here at Sanalife, use five layers of filtration for the cleanest air possible. These five layers are:
Note that you don’t need to upgrade your HVAC system for better air. Even small systems can cover over 200,000 square feet in clean air. This can make a big difference if the amount of particulates needs to be addressed quickly, like in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some elements of your workspace’s design may be contributing to poor indoor air quality. If your vents are blocked, for example, this can be forcing your HVAC system to work in overdrive, and fresh air is not being filtered through the space. Make sure all air vents and grills are kept clear.
You may also want to arrange your building so that air quality makes the most sense. A heat-generating source should not be placed directly underneath a thermostat, for example. Desks and other barriers should be spaced well enough away from windows and vents.
Consider adding easy-to-maintain air filtering plants, but only if they can be cared for and watered regularly.
So many indoor air pollutants can come from the occupants themselves. While this is natural, limiting the number of contaminants that we bring will only help improve sick building syndrome. Set up policies around cleanliness.
Ask that your workers avoid wearing perfume or cologne and that occupants store their food properly. You should also have a maintenance schedule in place to dispose of garbage quickly.
A smoking policy should be in place, as well as policies around vapes or gasoline-powered devices.
Other policies, like those required by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or based on the initiatives of the EPA and NIOSH’s Guide to Indoor Air Quality, can provide direction on government mandates and recommendations around indoor air quality.
Air quality is extremely important due to health risks and business costs associated with sick building syndrome. However, the importance of clean air quality has been amplified due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fortunately, some actions can be taken to improve your office air. Managing air pollutants comes down to four main strategies:
Luckily you can easily improve your office’s air quality with Sanalife’s 5-Stage portable air purifiers, which were developed with industry-leading technologies that provide robust air protection:
Using both active and passive forms of purification, Sanalife’s systems protect against harmful contaminants such as viruses, mold, and bacteria. Explore our multi-stage filtration technology and see how it can help keep your air as clean as possible.