Dry eyes, scratchy throat, headache. For some, these symptoms can be traced back to flowering buds and blooming trees but for others, there’s another unsuspecting culprit: their office building. In the wake of World Day for Safety and Health at Work, questions about workplace safety are top of mind. But many employers overlook the danger that continues to lurk in what they can’t see: the air they breathe. In fact, 50% of all illnesses are caused or exacerbated by polluted indoor air. A recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that indoor air quality (IAQ) in North American workplaces can be poor and up to five times more polluted than outdoor air.
That’s one of the reasons Blade Air has grown so rapidly. Canada’s fastest growing IAQ technology manufacturer has become a trusted partner to corporations, schools and governments from coast-to-coast, ensuring the air in their buildings promotes optimal health.
As an employer, you are responsible for keeping employees safe. But how do you know if the air in your office is making employees sick? And what can you do if the IAQ in your workplace is subpar?
Sick Building Syndrome
We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at your desk and you start to feel a tickle in your throat. You chalk it up to seasonal allergies, a cold picked up from your toddler. What most don’t realize is that these symptoms could be caused by the air in their workplace. The term Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) was coined to describe acute health symptoms including headache, eye, nose or throat irritation, dry cough, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. For most, these symptoms disappear when they leave the contaminated building, for others, they have lasting effects.
While some assume these symptoms result from older buildings with poor ventilation and poor IAQ that’s not always the case. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be associated with complaints related to poor IAQ. The culprit? Pollutants like particulate matter, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and radon derived from things commonly found in workplaces – building materials, cleaning products, and outdoor air pollution.
Clean Air and Employee Productivity
Sluggish employees? High absenteeism? It’s time to check your air. Studies have shown that poor IAQ and exposure to pollutants can have an impact on employees’ cognitive function, including response times and ability to focus. Poor air quality has also been linked to feelings of fatigue and reduced energy levels, reducing overall productivity.
But there’s good news. Improving air quality, even in small increments, can reverse these effects. Studies show that employers who improve air quality can increase productivity by 11%, improve health outcomes and reduce absenteeism. And it doesn’t end there. Improving air quality has been linked to higher job satisfaction and increased employee morale.
Keeping Indoor Air Quality Clean
Like our lungs, indoor spaces need to breathe. Movement of airflow keeps viruses and pollutants from accumulating, decreasing risks of exposure and SBS. Keeping air moving can be achieved in a number of ways, including:
Natural ventilation – Open your windows. Cross ventilation is a simple yet effective method of promoting good airflow.
Portable Air Filters – Portable HEPA air purifiers are a great way to increase ventilation in a space with limited to no mechanical HVAC system. They also add a layer of protection in the workplace and help remove air particles at short distances between occupants.
Whole Building Solutions – For larger-scale ventilation, enhancing HVAC systems using filtration technologies is most effective. From ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) to leveraging electrostatic technology to reduce a building’s energy consumption, solutions can be tailored to you and your HVAC needs.
Asking the Right Questions
When it comes to clean air, knowledge is power. Before signing a lease on a new space, ask these simple questions about the building to gauge the IAQ:
- Have any air quality tests been conducted on the property? What were the results?
- Has the landlord taken any steps to improve IAQ in response to tenant feedback?
- Are there any sources of air pollution in/around the building that could affect IAQ?
- Are there any chemicals or hazardous materials stored on the property that could affect IAQ?
- Are there any known issues with mold or moisture in the building? What’s being done to address them?
- How often are air filters changed or HVAC systems serviced?
- Are there any guidelines to address potential IAQ concerns?
- What should a tenant do if they have concerns about IAQ?
With North Americans spending approximately 90,000 hours in their lifetime at work, keeping employees healthy is the cornerstone of running a successful enterprise. While examining IAQ can feel like a daunting task, armed with the knowledge and right questions, employers can create a healthy environment for all.