Indoor air quality in your home is a common consideration, but indoor air quality in office spaces is less frequently considered. Because most people spend at least eight hours per day, five days per week in their offices, it’s crucial to think about the air quality in your workspace as well. Whether your team is developing the latest and greatest app, fostering the next generation of creative talent, or fighting a worthy cause, being proactive about indoor air quality issues at work is important to avoid larger problems down the road.

What is indoor air quality?

As the name suggests, indoor air quality speaks to the condition of the air you breathe in an indoor space. The indoor air quality in your home or workplace can have a big effect on your health, productivity, and overall comfort. Pollutants, mold, poor ventilation, exposure to chemicals and a number of other factors can contribute to poor indoor air quality in an office environment.

What contributes to poor indoor air quality in office spaces?

There are many factors that contribute to indoor air quality, and no simple solution to controlling all potential contaminants. Some common contributors to poor indoor air quality in office spaces include:

Naturally Occurring Pollutants: There are a number of naturally occurring pollutants including mold, bacteria, dust, pollen, and animal dander that can contribute to poor indoor air quality. These types of contaminants can affect buildings old and new, so it’s important to take this into consideration even if you work in a relatively new building. These types of contaminants can be particularly harmful to those who have allergies or asthma.

Chemical Pollutants: Chemical pollutants can also have a significant impact on indoor air quality in office spaces. Common pollutants include tobacco smoke, gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, and waste products from everyday things used in the building such as paint and cleaning supplies.

Small Particles and Other Waste Products: Sometimes the smallest contaminants in the air can have large effects on your health. This can include substances that make their way in from the outside such as dust, dirt, materials from construction, smoke, and other small and easily spreadable substances.

Building Design and Indoor Air Quality

Keeping air quality in mind from the initial stages of building an office space is a great preventative solution. This includes thinking about airflow, HVAC systems, climate control, filtration, and other systems during the initial phase of building will keep tenants happy and healthy in the long run. If you are operating within an old building, there are also many ways to implement best practices to avoid contamination and pollutants in the air in your workspace. Some key factors include:

Outdoor air supply and air quality: Having a healthy supply of fresh air flowing in and out of your building is a great way to enhance your building’s air quality. This will both make your space more comfortable and allow pollutants from activities inside your building to be diluted. Ensuring you have proper filters installed to make sure pollutants from the outdoor air such as carbon monoxide and other gasses is also crucial.

Design of ventilation systems: Not all ventilation systems are made equal. In older buildings especially, those which might no longer be used for their original purpose, it’s important to ensure ventilation systems are tailored to the buildings’ current function. For example, if a space within a building was previously a parking or storage area but has been renovated to be additional office space, HVAC systems may need to be updated to suit its current function.

Maintaining Climate Control and Ventilation Systems: Like most technology, HVAC systems need occasional maintenance to run smoothly. Doing preventative maintenance, routine testing, and consulting a professional when in doubt is a great way to maintain your offices’ indoor air quality for years to come. If you’re looking for an air quality professional in the Pacific Northwest, our team is happy to help.

For a detailed guide to building for optimal indoor air quality, we recommend the EPA’s Building Air Quality Guide for Building Owners and Facility Managers.

Air Quality Health Concerns for in the Workplace

Since most teams spend a big part of their life in the office, repeated exposure to chemicals in the workplace can take a serious toll on health. A number of health conditions may arise from long term exposure to poor air quality including:

  • Allergy symptoms including coughing, sneezing and runny nose
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Dizziness
  • Headache

While these health effects are short term and typically easy to treat, they are nonetheless unpleasant for those affected. Additionally, for those with pre existing allergies, asthma, or lowered immune systems, symptoms may be more severe and problematic.

The above symptoms are short term and easy to treat. However, if exposure to pollutants and poor indoor quality persist for long enough, more serious effects can happen. These can include:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Respiratory disease

Air Quality and Workplace Productivity

Indoor air quality can not only have negative health effects on individuals in your workplace, but it can also have an effect on employee’s productivity. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research compared productivity at various factories in China and found those who worked at facilities with better air quality were five to six percent more productive than those with worse indoor air quality. While your average office building in the U.S. will not have as much air pollution as a factory in China, these findings are still relevant in highlighting the impact of air quality on productivity. Small scale changes that can be made in order to improve air quality and productivity in the workplace include:

  • Good air flow within the office
  • Limiting exposure to outdoor air if your office is near a highway or construction zone
  • Arranging furniture with attention to good air flow and away from ventilation systems
  • Increased natural light and decreased heat and glare

How to improve air quality in your workplace

There are many ways to reduce the negative impact of poor air quality and keep your employees happy and healthy. Some steps to take include:

Control Pollutants and contaminants

  • Mold prevention through cleaning up spills and messes as soon as they occur,  addressing leaks as soon as possible, and increasing ventilation in your workspace to ensure maximum airflow and minimal humidity and moisture.
  • Avoid using strong or toxic chemicals in cleaning
  • Prohibit smoking in and near your buildings
  • Analyze parking areas and proximity to roads to reduce pollutants from carbon monoxide and other byproducts
  • Frequently cleaning, especially if you have an animal friendly workspace.

Increase Ventilation

Increasing ventilation within your workspace is another way to avoid the buildup of pollutants. Having increased air circulation in your workplace can omit pollutants, and reduce your risk of mold growth, which will also reduce the amount of allergens and pollutants in your office. Some ways to increase airflow within your office space include:

  • Opening windows and doors when weather permits (although be mindful of pollen and other allergens that may find their way in when doors are open!)
  • Improving the air filters within your workspace and ensure they are not blocked and working properly
  • Consider implementing plants in your office

What to do if you are concerned about your offices’ indoor air quality

If you think your office space is suffering from poor air quality, it’s important to schedule a test ASAP to assess the situation. Testing for mold spores, general environmental conditions, and toxic gasses is a proactive measure to take to keep your team happy and healthy in the long run. To learn more about commercial air quality testing or to book one of our specialists visit our website today!