Importance of Indoor Air Quality in Open Workspaces Post-PandemicSurbhi Dixit
Why is Indoor Air Quality Important in Open Workspaces Post-Pandemic?
The Relevance of Indoor Air Quality has become a matter of public health concern, and the pandemic has made it even more important. Now, organizations need to pay close attention to Indoor Air Quality to ensure a safe working environment at all times at the workplace.
What is Indoor Air Quality?
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is a measurement of the purity of indoor air. Since indoor airflow is restricted by walls and closed windows, the quality of indoor air should be frequently monitored and maintained. Particulate matter such as hair, bacteria, pollen, and harmful gases can usually be found in the air we breathe. Besides this, air is also composed of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen dioxide, fossil fuels, asbestos, radon, and other fine particles that can prove dangerous if inhaled regularly in more than trace amounts. This is why cleaning and filtering indoor air to maintain its quality is crucial.
You can filter and clean the indoor air using various means, including HVAC – heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, by installing air fresheners, or by simply opening the windows and letting fresh air in.
Why is Indoor Air Quality important?
Indoor Air Quality is a major concern for workplaces as poor airflow and circulation can affect the health, comfort, well-being, and productivity of leaders, clients, employees, and customers.
According to a survey, several people spend 90% of their day working in closed premises. At indoor levels, there may be higher levels of pollutants than those found outdoors, according to studies conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and others. Pollutants in indoor environments can increase the risk of illnesses. Several studies by EPAs, states, and independent scientific organizations have consistently identified indoor air pollution as a major environmental hygiene concern. Improving Indoor Air Quality can lead to higher productivity and healthier employees at the workplace.
Factors That Affect Indoor Air Quality
Air quality in indoor rooms can get affected by contaminants, odors, humidity, and the design, maintenance, and competence of the ventilation system.
Many different factors affect the impact of indoor air pollutants. Some contaminants, such as radon, are of particular concern because long-term exposure to high levels of these contaminants can increase the risk of serious life-threatening illnesses such as lung cancer. Other pollutants, such as very high concentrations of carbon monoxide, can even be fatal in minutes.
Some pollutants cause short-term and long-term health problems. For example, prolonged exposure to tobacco smoke in an indoor environment can cause lung problems, and short-term exposure can cause irritation and serious respiratory distress in some people, especially infants. People with asthma and other existing symptoms are more vulnerable to irritants such as cigarette smoke in an indoor environment, as well as to indoor gases, and particles from various sources.
The presence of excess moisture in indoor air can lead to the growth of mold and other biological contaminants in a workplace. Excessive relative humidity can contribute to the growth and diffusion of unhealthy biological contaminants, preventing water-damaged materials from drying quickly and serving as a catalyst for fungal growth. On the flip side, excessively low humidity can cause inflammation of people’s mucous membranes, dry eyes, and sinus problems.
3. Biological impurities
Excessive concentrations of bacteria, viruses, fungus, dust properties, animal dander, and pollen, can have serious effects on a person’s health. These impurities can also be generated from the insufficient maintenance of workplace premises, poor housekeeping, water spills, insufficient moisture control, condensation, and non-ventilated air.
4. Chemical pollutants
Sources of chemical pollutants include emissions from products used in buildings (office equipment, furniture, wall, and floor coverings, cleaning supplies, consumer goods, etc.) and accidental chemical spills, among others. Small invisible particles can also be harmful to your health.
The Influence of COVID-19 on Maintaining Indoor Air Quality
The pandemic impressed upon people the importance of healthy indoor air quality. Being indoors, where ventilation with outside air is inadequate, the emission of respiratory fluids, and crowded spaces can lead to harmful particles transmitted from one to another, within the premises. Without properly ventilated clean air in the building, the accumulation of these particles can cause a variety of illnesses. These include:
- Acute construction-related diseases (BRI)
- Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)
- Allergy and Asthma
- Seasonal viruses such as influenza
- Risk of spreading harmful viruses such as COVID-19
- Disease transmission by touching contaminated surfaces
Therefore, it is necessary to find a natural way to bring fresh air to the occupants of the building. Considering the need, EPA recommends air filtration, enhanced ventilation with outdoor air, maintaining hand hygiene, physical distancing, wearing masks, surface cleaning, and other precautions.
Effects of Poor Indoor Air Quality
Poor IAQ has a significant impact on your company’s productivity, performance, and profits. Poor Indoor Air Quality does more than just affect the health of your business.
- Health concerns impact the participation, comfort, and performance of staff and workers
- The associated health concerns strain professional relationships between directors, workers, and investors
- If word gets out about an office with poor indoor air hygiene, it can generate a lot of bad press and potentially damage your reputation
- Poor IAQ can cause the accelerated deterioration and reduced efficiency of organizational physical equipment
How to Improve the Indoor Air Quality at Workspaces
A crucial goal for workplaces is to minimize exposure to the poor indoor air from all possible sources and to maintain IAQ within office premises, thus protecting the interest and health of everyone working there. Officeholders looking to improve IAQ must consider the following recourses:
1. The design, maintenance, and operation of the ventilation system
To maintain a healthy Indoor Air Quality, one should pay attention to the building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, design, and layout, management of pollution sources, and so on.
An HVAC system includes all equipment used for ventilation, heating, and cooling of buildings. A well-functioning HVAC system regularly moves air inside the building (duct) and filters and purifies it. These systems can have a significant impact on the way pollutants are distributed and removed.
However, the HVAC system can also act as a source of pollutants in some cases, if it is not regularly maintained. This can happen if, for instance, the ventilation air filter becomes dirty or damp, or if microbial growth occurs from stagnant water in the drain pan or uncontrolled moisture in the air duct. The air supply capacity of the HVAC system must depend on the expected number of people and the amount of equipment in the building.
2. Outside air supply
Enough supply of outside air, usually supplied through the HVAC system, is required in any office environment to counter the negative effects of contaminants released by office equipment, building materials, furniture, products, and other sources. The distribution of ventilated air in the living space is essential for optimal health and comfort.
3. Installing air filters
In the presence of carbon monoxide, pollen, dust, and other outside air pollutants, when the outside air is sent to the building’s ventilation system, they can affect the condition of the room. A properly installed and maintained filter can retain many particles in this open air. The management of gaseous or chemical contaminants may require internal air filters and more specialized filtration equipment.
4. Proper space planning
The placement of furniture and appliances can affect the flow of air into an occupied space. Furniture and partitions that cut off the air supply or extract air records should be placed with airflow in mind, as they can also affect the quality of the air in the room.
5. Equipment maintenance
Proper maintenance of HVAC equipment is essential for the proper supply and quality of air in the building. Every well-managed building has a preventative maintenance program to ensure that the HVAC system is functioning properly.
6. Control of other pollutant routes
Contaminants can spread throughout the building by moving through stairwells, elevator shafts, wall rooms, and utility ducts. Some sources may require special ventilation or other control measures.
Several factors influence the indoor climate and air quality, but the good news is that many problems related to poor IAQ can be prevented easily and inexpensively. A lot depends on the joint actions of building managers and employees to improve and maintain Indoor Air Quality. Doing so ensures a comfortable, safe, disease-free building environment, and the health and happiness of everyone involved.