Why is Air Quality important in Working Environments

Why is Air Quality important in Working Environments

The quality of the air we breathe is a fundamental aspect of living a proper life, and to be able to feel well and healthy. 

However, while the quality of the air outside is something that we always notice, and any sign of bad outdoor air quality usually raises concerns as soon as these signs are perceived; this is not often the case when it comes to indoor air quality, which is not always taken into account for overall wellness.

There are cases though, when bad indoor air quality is evident, mostly due to factors such as chemical odours, or other types of odours that are not what we are used to; or also due to sneezing and coughing attacks..

We would never like to be exposed to bad air quality, no matter if we notice it, as the sole idea is certainly not pleasant. But this issue can be especially bad in the working environment, where groups of people breathe the same air for many hours, making it fundamental to raise awareness on the importance of ensuring good air quality in the workspace.

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The Air Quality in the Office

One of the problems when considering the air quality in the working environment is that it is not always easy to know if the air we breathe is “good” or not. Except when there are too clear signs.

Offices and working environments are some of the more prone indoor spaces to get poor or suboptimal air quality because of the needs of such spaces, which often involve more than ten people together, often in old or not often maintained buildings.

When the air breathed for many hours by workers who require to be productive and effective, is not good; workers’ productivity and concentration decrease considerably. 

This is why testing the quality of the indoor air in the office or working environment is something that should be essential, as this is yet another way of showing the employees that their health and wellness are important.

However, ensuring that the air breathed in an office is as good as it should be is not only a task for employers, managers or owners of the building. Employees and members of an organisation, as occupants of a building or indoor space, must ask for air quality tests to be performed periodically.

There are many ways to determine air quality in the working environment. Testing the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the temperature and humidity of the air, as well as repeated symptoms among workers must all be determined in order to reach the best conditions.

How are employees affected by bad indoor Air Quality 

There are many factors that can improve or detriment the comfort and wellness in the working environment, making it worse for the employees to stay productive and feel well, or, conversely, making it harder for them to perform as well as they are expected to, during the long hours of work.

Particularly, how good or bad is the air in the working environment is one aspect that can affect the performance of employees to varied degrees, and in some cases, it might be the main cause of negative performance in the office.

But not only this, bad indoor quality of air can make the environment feel heavier, and workers feel more tired, in some cases even dizzy or produce a headache, which turns a situation such as a regular meeting into a very hard-to-perform task. Here are some symptoms we experience as well due to bad air quality: sneezing, running nose and coughing, amongst others.

Bad odours can also reduce the quality of the work environment, as workers might want to avoid performing certain tasks that involve going to those places where the concentration of these unpleasant odours would be greater, making it very hard for anyone to focus on the job.

Overall, dealing with either allergenic or concentrations of gases that might be detrimental to health, even if the consequences are not easily perceived, it is indispensable to make sure to prevent any risk of health issues for the human capital.

Indoor Air Quality in working Environments in the UK

As we mentioned before, air quality in working environments is an important aspect of occupational health and safety, as poor air quality can have a significant impact on the well-being and productivity of employees. In the United Kingdom (UK), various regulations and guidelines are in place to ensure that employers maintain acceptable air quality standards in workplaces.

The UK has a comprehensive legal framework governing air quality in working environments. The primary legislation that addresses this issue is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Under this act, employers have a duty to provide a safe and healthy working environment, which includes ensuring that the air quality is adequate and does not pose a risk to the health of employees.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 is another key regulation that applies to air quality in the workplace. It specifically deals with hazardous substances that could be present in the air, such as dust, fumes, gases, and vapors. The COSHH Regulations require employers to assess and control the risks associated with these substances, which includes implementing measures to prevent or control exposure and monitoring air quality levels regularly.

Furthermore, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 address general workplace conditions, including ventilation and temperature. These regulations stipulate that workplaces should have suitable ventilation systems that provide fresh air, remove pollutants, and maintain a comfortable temperature.

To support these regulations, the UK has established various guidelines and standards that provide recommendations for maintaining good air quality in working environments. For instance, the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) publishes a Code of Practice for Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality in Buildings. This code offers guidance on designing and operating ventilation systems to ensure adequate air exchange rates, filtration, and air distribution in different types of buildings.

In recent years, the issue of indoor air quality has gained increased attention due to the recognition of its impact on health and well-being. Poor indoor air quality can lead to a range of health issues, including respiratory problems, allergies, and reduced cognitive function. In response, organisations like the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have been promoting awareness and providing resources to help employers assess and improve indoor air quality in workplaces.

Employers in the UK are encouraged to conduct regular air quality assessments, which may involve measuring key pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other potential contaminants. These assessments can help identify any air quality issues and guide the implementation of appropriate control measures to improve indoor air quality.

The UK Government’s Environment Act 2021 mandates the establishment of legally binding environmental goals for England in four key areas, including air quality. One specific target focuses on fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which is recognised as the most detrimental air pollutant to human health. In March 2022, the Government initiated a consultation to determine the specifics of these targets. The proposed air quality targets are as follows:

  1. Annual mean concentration target: By 2040, England must achieve a target of 10 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) as the average PM2.5 concentration across the country.
  2. Population exposure reduction target: By 2040, there should be a 35% reduction in population exposure to PM2.5 compared to the base year of 2018.

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Causes of bad indoor Air Quality 

Indoor air quality is one of those aspects that might be caused by several variables, sometimes more than one at the same time, which could make it harder to spot what are the causes of the issue, even if the consequences are being manifested among those affected.

One of the main causes of a reduction in indoor air quality is pollutants that come from outside. This is one of the first causes that should be tested when bad indoor air quality is suspected, though there are many ways or reasons for which pollutants might contaminate the air inside.

First of all, organisations or companies might be located at places where levels of pollution are high, due to industries nearby, or overall being in a city where the levels of pollution are high, making it easier for these contaminant agents to make it into the office.

Cooling and heating systems are yet other factors that might be causing pollutants to get into the building, due to elements such as a lack of maintenance of the ducts, or a not optimal installation of these systems, which are essential on their own to ensure wellness in the working environment.

There are many other factors that can reduce indoor air quality, such as the use of chemicals for cleaning, the use of pesticides in the case of working environments when these products are necessary for production, and even office equipment, especially printers and copy machines.

In many cases, more than one of the mentioned factors might be present in the working environment, and many of these might not be the main causes and therefore be easily fixed or even ignored in the short term. In the meantime, others could be affecting the working environment at greater rates.

Overall, anything that affects the wellness of employees, and that might even have a negative impact on their health should eventually be targeted and fixed. However, it is fundamental to start with those that are making the biggest negative impact on the workers or employees.

How can you improve Air Quality in your Working Environment?

Luckily, there are several actions that can be made to start improving the indoor air quality without the need of considering more extreme solutions such as moving the office to a different building; which is not cost-effective, nor is it feasible for the organisation.

Hereafter, you will find the 8 Tips to Improve Air Quality in your working environment.

1) Several tests must be performed in the building

Either if there is an evident case of bad air quality, or if there is the desire of making sure that this is not an issue in the working environment: from the airflow to humidity levels, ventilation, odours, leaks, standing water, water damage, mould growth and more.

The first test that is usually performed when indoor air quality is being measured, is a carbon dioxide or CO2 test, which, if the results are low levels of this gas, indicates that there is a need for more outdoor air.

2) Use fresh air whenever possible

If your office has windows, open them up

3) Air-conditioning and heating systems

They are some of the first factors to be considered when it comes to improving indoor air quality, especially, by performing periodic maintenance of substitution of the ducts of the system, to prevent contaminants and pollutants from affecting the indoor air. Installing an air purifier in your office is also a great solution for clean and quality air.

4) Keep your air vents open

 unblocked and replace air filters frequently. To ensure proper airflow and circulation, prevent mould and mildew growth, reduce pressure on the HVAC system and improve indoor air quality.

5) Maintain a healthy level of humidity in your Workplace

 Humidity between 30-50% helps keep dust mites, mould and other allergens under control. Use dehumidifiers and air conditioners to control the humidity level in your installations

6) Add some Plants

They can filter harmful pollutants through their leaves and roots and produce more oxygen, which means employees will be able to breathe more easily.

7) Keep your Office clean

 Chemical cleaners emit fumes and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can harm indoor air quality. By reducing exposure to harmful chemicals, you can reduce the risk of respiratory and allergic reactions.

8) Invest in low-pollutant materials for the furniture

Make sure to choose materials that are certified by the International WELL Building Institute (WELL Building Standard). Such as bamboo, hemp, linen, cork…Some fittings are even made out of potato peelings glued together with potato starch! You can learn more about the WELL Standard and other Green Building Certifications, here.

Employees are also fundamental when it comes to ensuring the excellent quality of air in a working environment, as they are the ones who are usually most exposed to this and can be the best tests, making it important for them to communicate any situation that is affecting their overall comfort.

Last but not least, there are SaaS Platforms that can give you real-time data about the air quality of your workplace.

Dexma Air Quality Monitor, for example, can help you improve the environmental quality of your installations by showing you recommendations. Access all the key data from an easy-to-use dashboard!  Ask for a personalised DEMO.

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