Poor air quality in the workplace has the potential to lead to health complaints, absenteeism, and reduced productivity in employees. So for that reason, it’s in the best interests of employers to ensure work environments are as clean and healthy as possible.
Is your building healthy?
Many of us spend more than 90% of our time indoors and yet we often don’t give a second thought to indoor pollution. Unhealthy office environments can even cause Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), where occupants suffer all kinds of symptoms and illnesses.
A building may be ‘sick’ for a number of reasons, including poor ventilation or air distribution, high humidity levels, storage of chemicals in close proximity to people, lack of natural light, and inadequate cleaning and hygiene control
Four warning signs of poor air quality in a workplace
- High levels of absenteeism.
- Reduced productivity due to staff feeling generally unwell or lethargic.
- Symptoms in employees such as headaches, eye and nose irritations, sneezing, coughing, itchy skin, allergies, wheezing, or just feeling vaguely unwell.
- Illnesses or signs of illnesses such chest pain, nose bleeds, colds, flu and other viral infections, asthma, and legionnaires disease.
Causes may include:
- Chemical contaminants – such as smoke, pollutants, paint, chemicals, machinery, perfumes, heaters, adhesives, and upholstery.
- Biological contaminants – including mould from high humidity and damp, pollen, dust, dirt, and airborne bacteria and viruses.
- Other – lack of space and natural light and poor ergonomics.
Ways to improve air quality and building health
There are a number of things that can be done to improve the indoor environment:
- Ensure adequate ventilation – natural ventilation can be achieved through a venting aperture or a window that can be opened. It’s also important to create adequate cross-ventilation for healthy airflow and distribution.
- Mechanical ventilation systems need to comply with Australian Standards AS 3666.1 for ‘Air handling and water systems of building – Microbial Control’, and AS 1668.2 for ‘Mechanical ventilation for acceptable indoor air quality’.
- Windows should be equal in size to 10% or more of the floor space for the purposes of natural light.
- Keep up the repairs and maintenance on your HVAC system, or look into getting it replaced if it is over 15 years’ old.
- Store chemicals, paints and solvents well away from indoor office areas.
- De-clutter the office space, especially if it is overcrowded or messy. Just having a nice spacious and clean area to work in can help people feel happier and healthier in their jobs.
- Consider adding indoor plants – plants have the capacity to absorb pollutants and their presence in offices has been shown to improve concentration, memory, health and productivity in workers. However, it’s important not to overwater them as this could increase the level of mould spores.
- Engage a professional cleaning company to regularly clean the building. High quality commercial cleaning services use powerful vacuum cleaners to remove very fine particles in carpeted areas, reducing air pollution. They also thoroughly clean and disinfect surfaces and floors to prevent the spread of illness. A clean office looks more professional, and using commercial cleaners helps to make sure your office is a place where you are proud to hold meetings and welcome clients and visitors.
Improving the air quality in your building through good ventilation, the use of commercial cleaners and other means is worth the investment of time and money, especially if it means your workforce becomes happier, healthier and more productive as a result.