Between home and the office, most of us spend a significant amount of time indoors. Until the indoor air we breathe becomes noticeably poor - either dusty
or a gagging odour - we don’t usually give indoor air quality much thought.
Unbeknownst to many, there can be a variety of contaminants in the air that can cause major health concerns. Not only can bad air make workers sick but a study published in 2016 in Environmental Health Perspectives suggests it can drastically reduce the ability to think, limiting workplace performance.
Understanding and controlling indoor air pollution can significantly reduce the risk of a number of health and productivity concerns.
There are two main sources of contaminants affecting indoor air quality:
- Those arising from building occupants:
- CO2 from the simple act of breathing,
- Tobacco smoke clinging to the clothes of smokers
- Body odours
- Those stemming from building materials:
- Dust mites (travelling on the dust)
- Lead also hitching a ride on those dust particles
- Fibreglass particles
- Asbestos, especially in older buildings
- Gases, including formaldehyde and radon
- Moulds and other fungi
Most of us wouldn’t consider the impact employees themselves have on indoor air quality. Most building are now built very air tight. Large occupancy office facilities are producing tremendous amounts of CO2 simply from people breathing. A stressful work environment produces even more of this gas. But, alas, as a facility manager you can’t stop your employees from breathing!
Tobacco smoke has been eliminated from offices to a large extent with the advent of smoking restrictions within and around the office facility. However, tobacco smoke makes its way into the building by sneaking in on the clothing of employees. Scent restrictions in some facilities have reduced pollution by volatiles like perfume, but many body products like antiperspirants contain scent and we know the issue of body odour would be a lot worse without these personal hygiene products.
Other than tobacco smoke, which can increase the risk of cancer, building occupants tend to produce pollutants that reduce productivity because they are unpleasant. High levels of CO2 will contribute to lethargic, unproductive employees. For some, fragrances in the workplace can trigger headaches which definitely affect comfort and productivity. And bad body odour – well that one requires no further explanation.
Contaminants arising within the building can also have a negative impact on air quality. New furniture and carpeting especially release toxic gases such as formaldehyde. Radon is a radioactive gas produced naturally by the decay of uranium in the soil. Radon seeps into buildings through foundation cracks and other improperly sealed openings. Both formaldehyde and radon increase cancer risks. In fact, 3000 Canadians lose their lives per year due to elevated radon concentrations in their homes, according to Health Canada.
How do these contaminants make their way into facilities?
- Some pollutants are tracked into the office.
- Some arrive through new furniture.
- A new coat of paint on the walls is a source of volatile pollutants.
- Dust mites get into the office when dust is tracked in or gets in every time a door or window is opened and are a major allergen as is the dust itself.
- Heaps of pet dander arrive through the clothing of pet owners and are a source of concern for many allergy sufferers.
So, what is the solution to indoor air pollution? The EPA estimates that poor indoor air costs the United States billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and medical care. As a facility manager, you want your building to smell fresh. You want to safeguard the health and well-being of your employees and customers.
Here are 6 simple steps to improve indoor air quality that can be implemented right now:
- Use a vacuum with a hepa filter, strong suction and rotating brush.
- You’ll reduce concentrations of lead, and allergens including pollen, pet dander and dust mites;
- Vacuum the same spot several times;
- Vacuum walls, carpet edges and upholstered furniture;
- Vacuum 2 or more times weekly and wash out the filters regularly.
- Regular mopping of hard surfaces.
- Picks up dust left behind after vacuuming;
- Use plain water only to capture lingering dust and allergens;
- The use of microfibre mops and dust cloths captures more dust and dirt than traditional fibres.
- Keep out contaminants by using floor mats at every entrance.
- Mats reduce tracked in sources of dirt, pesticides and other pollutants.
- Keep a healthy level of humidity in your building.
- Dust mites and mold love moisture so keep levels of air moisture low.
- Keeping air humidity at around 30 to 50% helps keep those allergens under control.
- Using a dehumidifier, especially in the spring and summer, reduces humidity to a healthy level, controlling allergens.
- Using an air conditioner reduces humidity and also filters pollutants out of the air.
- Test for Radon gas.
- Granite countertops and cracks in foundations are linked to radon gas in buildings.
- Testing for radon gas is easy, inexpensive and takes only a few minutes.
- Keep it natural to smell good.
- Synthetic fragrances in laundry products, cleaners and air fresheners emit dozens of different chemicals in the air.
- Where possible, switch to mild cleaners without artificial fragrance.
- Stop using aerosol sprays that release more vapour into the air.
- Let in fresh air when possible by opening windows to allow toxins and other pollutants to escape to the outside.
- Properly cared for live plants in the office can act as living air purifiers contributing to better indoor air quality.
Indoor air can be polluted as much or in some cases more than outside air. Poor air quality can be detrimental to the overall health and happiness of employees. Proper maintenance practices are essential to safeguarding their health and productivity and thus, protecting your bottom line. Using the above 6 simple steps are an immediate way to have a positive impact on your facility.