Indoor Air Quality and the Workplace

Over the past 25 years, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) have received a great deal of attention with regards to their impact upon both health and productivity measures in the workplace1-7.  Although IAQ is a multi-faceted metric, it is mainly impacted by ventilation rate, humidity and air borne pollutants/constituents8.

Early research reported strong evidence that building design, materials and characteristics significantly influence rates of respiratory disease, incidence of allergy and worker performance via an impact on IAQ1,9.  Furthermore, poor ventilation and high ambient CO2 levels have been shown to directly affect the incidence of “Sick Building Syndrome” and negatively influence cognitive performance10. Such findings resulted in the development of recommendations (CEN CR 1752) with regards to the design of new buildings to enable improved IAQ/IEQ.  Whilst these recommendations enable a minimal acceptable level of air quality, they do not provide detail as to the optimal air quality for health and productivity.

Improved IAQ/IEQ has been cited to significantly impact workplaces via reductions in: perceived absenteeism, work hours affected by asthma, respiratory allergies, depression, stress and increased self-reported productivity7.  Additionally, cognitive performance has been shown to improve with increased ventilation and lowered CO2 levels in the ambient air11.  Similar productivity benefits have been demonstrated by a 2% reduction in call handling time with improved IAQ (ambient CO2 maintained at <75ppm above external air)12.  The application of air filtration has also been shown to benefit worker performance13,14.  In this study it was reported that a new air filter applied alongside a ventilation rate of 20 L/s/p resulted in a 9% improvement in employee performance.

In recent years, the advent of new air filtration technologies and knowledge of air borne pollutants such as volatile organic compounds, has resulted in the development of a range of commercial products aimed to improve IAQ in office spaces and positively impact worker health and performance.  Volatile organic compounds are reported to have irritant and odorant properties and newer buildings are likely to have relatively higher levels versus older  comparators. As such, the removal of volatile organic compounds from ambient office air is desirable from a health and wellness perspective8.

Whilst the introduction of new air technologies into offices introduces a financial burden (via energy consumption), an increase in worker productivity has been argued to offset this cost8.  Research has reported that increasing minimum ventilation rates from 8 to 10 L/s/person would yield an economic benefit of $13Bn and up $38Bn if increased to 15 L/s/person15.

In summary, improving IAQ in the workplace can enhance employee wellbeing as well as boost productivity, leading to benefits to both employees and employers alike.

Benefits of Indoor Air Quality

  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Greater cognitive performance
  • Improved mental health
  • Better employee wellbeing
  • Enhanced productivity

References

  • Fisk, W. J., & Rosenfeld, A. H. (1997). Estimates of improved productivity and health from better indoor environments. Indoor air, 7(3), 158-172.
  • Wargocki, P., Wyon, D. P., Baik, Y. K., Clausen, G., & Fanger, P. O. (1999). Perceived air quality, sick building syndrome (SBS) symptoms and productivity in an office with two different pollution loads. Indoor air, 9(3), 165-179.
  • Jones, A. P. (1999). Indoor air quality and health. Atmospheric environment, 33(28), 45354564.
  • Wyon, D. P. (2004). The effects of indoor air quality on performance and productivity. Indoor air, 14(7), 92-101.
  • Sundell, J. (2004). On the history of indoor air quality and health. Indoor air, 14(s 7), 51-58.
  • Kosonen, R., & Tan, F. (2004). The effect of perceived indoor air quality on productivity loss. Energy and Buildings, 36(10), 981-986.
  • Singh, A., Syal, M., Grady, S. C., & Korkmaz, S. (2010). Effects of green buildings on employee health and productivity. American journal of public health, 100(9), 1665-1668.
  • Al Horr, Y., Arif, M., Kaushik, A., Mazroei, A., Katafygiotou, M., & Elsarrag, E. (2016). Occupant productivity and office indoor environment quality: A review of theliterature. Building and environment, 105, 369-389.
  • Fanger, P. O. (1988). Introduction of the olf and the decipol units to quantify air pollution perceived by humans indoors and outdoors. Energy and buildings, 12(1), 1-6.
  • Myhrvold, A. N., Olsen, E., & Lauridsen, O. (1996). Indoor environment in schools–pupils health and performance in regard to CO2 concentrations. Indoor Air, 96(4), 369-371.
  • Myhrvold, A. (1997). Pupils health and performance due to renovation of schools. Proceedings of Healthy Buildings/IAQ 1997, 1.
  • Fisk, W. J., Faulkner, D., Palonen, J., & Seppanen, O. (2003). Performance and costs of particle air filtration in HVAC supply airstreams.
  • Wargocki, P., Wyon, D. P. and Fagner P.O. (2003) Call-centre operator performance with new and used supply air filters at two outdoor air supply rates. Proceedings of the Healthy Buildings 2003 conference. Singapore, 3, 213-218.
  • Wargocki, P., Wyon, D. P., & Fanger, P. O. (2004). The performance and subjective responses of call-center operators with new and used supply air filters at two outdoor air supply rates. Indoor air, 14, 7-16.
  • Fisk, W. J., Black, D., & Brunner, G. (2012). Changing ventilation rates in US offices: Implications for health, work performance, energy, and associated economics. Building and environment, 47, 368-372.

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