Indoor Air Quality: The Invisible Enemy Inside your Workplace August 14, 2019 – Posted in: Blog

Keeping the workplace clean is essential to the health and wellness of your employees. Certain cleaning practices are employed by every business establishment to get rid of germs, bacteria, and other contaminants that lurk on various surfaces. But what about maintaining workplace air quality?

We often don’t notice it but indoor air pollution exists. Research says that it’s far more dangerous than outdoor air pollution.

Dangers of Indoor Air Pollution

Many people don’t realize it but the air circulating in their homes and offices are actually filled with toxic compounds that harm their physical and mental health. 

Indoor air pollution has been linked to many health problems, such as respiratory diseases, cough, and colds, skin irritation, headache, sore throat, lethargy, nausea, etc. In addition to these, workers may also experience other health symptoms like breathing difficulties which usually result from exposure to extreme temperatures, high humidity levels, and poor air circulation. Workers may also be exposed to pollutants that can cause asthma, called asthmagens. Long-term effects include lung cancer and Legionnaires’ Disease – a type of pneumonia.

What causes poor office air quality?

It isn’t surprising that indoor air pollution is a common problem. Building materials, supplies, machines, and equipment all release toxic pollutants that contaminate the air. These include carbon monoxide (of which too much exposure can cause heart disease), nitrogen dioxide, hydrocarbons, formaldehyde, Sulphur dioxide, radon, and so much more. If the building is old, there’s also a possibility of asbestos and lead contamination in the air. Apart from these inevitable air pollutants, chemicals from cleaners, floor and furniture polishes, glue, even air fresheners that are supposed to make indoor air clean and fresh, also contribute to the problem.

Without proper ventilation, the amount of potentially hazardous substances present in indoor air often exceeds that of the outdoor air.

Workplace Air Quality Testing

There’s no doubt about it – air pollution is the invisible enemy inside your workplace.

Fortunately, it can be addressed. There are several ways to improve indoor air quality. But it all begins with air quality testing.

This procedure is conducted by trained professionals or air quality experts although currently, there are air testing kits that can be purchased and installed by anyone (employees or managers) that can measure the level of certain air pollutants.

There is no single device or method that can test for all kinds of air pollutants. The most common testing kit used by commercial establishments is the one that measures the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC)s. It can be used to analyze the causes of unhealthy air in your office by revealing levels of VOCs, formaldehyde, and the gasses emitted by mold.

Indoor Air Quality Improvement

Indoor air quality testing is critical to ensuring healthy air in your workplace. However, it’s just one piece of the puzzle. After determining the toxic compounds that contaminate the air, the next thing to do is to mitigate it.

  • Determining the sources – A building walk-through or inspection is crucial to check for odors and identify water damage, leaks, dirt, mold, and other sources of indoor air pollution. The usual causes include problems with air conditioning units, damage to roofs, standing water in dehumidifiers, and moisture issues.
  • Assessing workers’ health problems – The management should also keep track of the health issues commonly experienced by employees in determining the problem with indoor air quality as some pollutants can lead to specific symptoms.
  • Facility upgrade – It is also important to keep the building well-maintained. Old buildings are often made with construction materials containing asbestos and other dangerous substances.
  • Assigning IAQ representative The role of building management in maintaining quality indoor air is highly essential. The IAQ representative will take charge of identifying and reviewing records concerning the building’s HVAC system, developing an indoor air profile of the building, and identifying potential pollutant sources.

Improve ventilation

Part of indoor air quality management is ensuring that the building has proper ventilation. Industrial ventilation brings in fresh air from the outdoors and removes contaminated air. It has the following purposes: 

  • Control exposure to airborne contaminants.
  • Lessen potential fire or explosion hazards.
  • Remove airborne contaminants.
  • Provide a continuous supply of fresh air inside the workplace.
  • Keep temperature and humidity at comfortable levels.

Very few offices keep their windows open to allow fresh air in. Most companies rely on the use of air conditioning units. Unfortunately, they don’t help with proper ventilation unless the system includes sufficient filters. Air conditioning systems only suck outdoor air that is often filled with pollutants and allow them to circulate around the office.

Without proper filters, air conditioners can aggravate indoor air problems because these systems suck outdoor is that is potentially filled with pollutants that contaminate indoor air.

Use professional-grade equipment to promote quality indoor air

Aside from using highly calibrated sensors that determine the exact level of indoor air pollutants, there are other professional equipment and devices that promote clean air in offices and commercial facilities. These include:

Air scrubbers 

Being a portable filtration system air scrubber removes particles, gasses, and chemicals from the air within a given area.

Air purifiers 

They often include HEPA filters that capture 99.97% of particles in the air.

Dehumidifiers 

Dehumidifiers lower the humidity levels in the air by removing excess moisture. It works by sucking air across cold coils and turning it into the water through condensation.

Add some office plants

According to research, indoor plants can reduce carbon monoxide levels by 10% in air-conditioned offices and 25% in workplaces without air conditioning systems. All plants promote quality air by absorbing carbon monoxide and releasing oxygen. However, there are certain plants that are perfect for indoor environments because they provide more benefits like stress reduction.

Indoor plants are scientifically proven to reduce eye, nose and throat irritation, and prevent or ease coughing and congestion. Among the best plants for promoting indoor air quality are Garden Mum, Spider Plant, Dracaena, Peace Lily, and Boston Fern. 

Aside from improving air quality, putting plants in your office can greatly help reduce stress, promote productivity, and lower sickness and absence rates.

Keep the workplace clean

A clean environment contributes to clean air. Aside from regularly mopping floors, vacuuming furniture and surfaces, and sanitizing desks and office equipment, implementing vigorous cleaning practices especially on HVAC systems is a must. These include keeping the HVAC filters clean, air vents unblocked, and disposing of the garbage immediately. Opening windows from time to time should also help flush out stale air.

Conclusion

Indoor air pollution is a common problem not only among households but also in offices and commercial buildings. We don’t always notice it but dirty air is a common cause of many health problems that affect productivity in the workplace.

Air quality testing should be done as an initial step to improving air quality in the office. Commercial sensors are run to gather air samples which are then submitted to laboratories for further analysis. The next step is determining the sources of indoor air pollution. Moreover, improvements in ventilation should help keep poor air out and fresh air in. It is impossible to get rid of air pollution by 100%. But it is possible to keep it at the minimum level as to not affect workers’ health. Other good practices for maintaining quality indoor air are the use of indoor plants and regular cleaning.