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 and five days per week in their offices, thinking about the air quality in your workspace is crucial 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?
Many factors contribute to indoor air quality, and no simple solution to control all potential contaminants exists. Some common contributors to poor indoor air quality in office spaces include:
Naturally Occurring Pollutants
A number of naturally occurring pollutants — including mold, bacteria, dust, pollen, and animal dander — can contribute to poor indoor air quality. These types of contaminants can affect buildings old and new, so 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 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 that will keep tenants happy and healthy in the long run. This includes thinking about airflow, HVAC systems, climate control, filtration, and other systems during the initial phase of building. If your business is operating within an old building, you also have many options 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 that you have proper filters installed to extract pollutants from the outdoor air, such as carbon monoxide and other gases, is also crucial.
Ventilation system design
Not all ventilation systems are made equal. Especially in older buildings, which might no longer be used for their original purposes, ensuring that ventilation systems are tailored to the building’s current function is important. For example, if a space within a building was previously a parking or storage area but has been renovated to be additional office space, you may need to update HVAC systems 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 office’s 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 in the Workplace
Since most teams spend a big part of their lives in their 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 such as coughing, sneezing, and runny nose
- Sore throat
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.
If exposure to pollutants and poor indoor quality persist for long enough, more serious effects may develop. These can include:
- Heart disease
- Respiratory disease
Air Quality and Workplace Productivity
Indoor air quality can affect more than the health of the individuals in your workplace: it can even affect employees’ productivity. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research compared productivity at various factories in China and found that 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 you can make in order to improve air quality and productivity in the workplace include:
- Good airflow within the office
- Limiting exposure to outdoor air if your office is near a highway or construction zone
- Arranging furniture with attention to good airflow and away from ventilation systems
- Increased natural light and decreased heat and glare
How to Improve Air Quality in Your Workplace
You have many options when it comes to reducing the negative impact of poor air quality and keeping your employees happy and healthy. Some steps to take include:
Control Pollutants and Contaminants
- Prevent mold by 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.
- Clean frequently, especially if you have an animal-friendly workspace.
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 in your office. Some ways to increase airflow within your office space include:
- Opening windows and doors when weather permits (but 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 ensuring that they are working properly and not blocked
- Adding plants to your office
What to Do if You Are Concerned About Your Office’s Indoor Air Quality
If you think your office space is suffering from poor air quality, schedule a test as soon as possible to assess the situation. Testing for mold spores, general environmental conditions, and toxic gases is a proactive measure to take to keep your team happy and healthy in the long run.
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