You may know the traditional methods for maintaining a clean and healthy facility:
- Maintain clean surfaces.
- Make sure soap and hand sanitizer are readily available for occupant use.
- Minimize the use of products that might introduce harmful contaminants.
There is one vital addition to that list: clean air. While you can’t see the vast majority of pollutants in the air, the constant presence of viruses, allergens, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can dramatically affect occupant well-being. Asthma and allergies alone result in millions of missed days of work and school each year. Absenteeism is further exacerbated by airborne viruses, such as the flu, which are commonly transmitted through the air.
Absenteeism costs more than just time out of the office for the employee who is missing work. According to a 2014 survey report from the Society for Human Resource Management, unplanned absences in the United States cost employers 6.7 percent of payroll costs.
Providing clean air has a wide range of benefits, including increased occupant productivity, reduced absenteeism, and improved facility perception. In fact, recent research from scientists at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Syracuse University, and SUNY Upstate Medical University suggests that reducing indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide can significantly improve cognitive function.
Building occupants are becoming more aware of this issue and expect their facility managers to proactively address indoor air quality (IAQ). The benefits speak for themselves. Fewer allergy and asthma triggers and a cleaner environment mean more productive occupants, less absenteeism caused by airborne contaminants, and an overall better experience for all who enter your building.
Why Improve IAQ: The Basics
IAQ has a more profound effect on occupants than most people realize because the average person spends about 90 percent of his or her time indoors.
Polluted and poorly ventilated environments can cause immediate symptoms for occupants, such as nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and even throat and eye irritation. Over time, constant exposure to contaminants can cause more serious long-term respiratory and cardiovascular problems.
Facility air can be contaminated by a wide range of particles, including dust, mold spores, allergens, VOCs, infectious viruses, and even outdoor air pollution. When the air isn’t well-circulated, these contaminants build up over time. This causes poor indoor air quality, making environments uncomfortable and unhealthy for occupants.
Minimize the Flu, Allergies, and Asthma
The airborne flu virus is one of the most prominent contributors to poor indoor air quality.
Experts have found that handwashing does little to prevent the flu from spreading, but a sneeze or cough can quickly infect the air in an entire room. A recent study conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology confirmed that a single sneeze can put a whole room at risk in only minutes. Additionally, people are contagious well before showing most symptoms of the virus, which leads schools and offices to become common areas for transmitting illness.
Asthma and allergies are another growing concern, because poor indoor air quality can quickly trigger these respiratory conditions, especially from outdoor pollutants that easily get indoors.
How to Improve IAQ
There are numerous methods for improving IAQ, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends three in particular: source control, ventilation, and air purification. To significantly improve IAQ, facility managers and cleaning professionals should be proactive and adopt a multifaceted approach.
Using an HVAC system to increase ventilation can generally benefit IAQ, but these systems are often too large, especially in offices and schools, to effectively target problem areas. Also, HVAC systems can actually spread germs from room to room, according to ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers.
Combining the EPA’s recommendations is your best bet. You can minimize contamination from harmful sources by removing hazardous building materials, and find green alternatives to cleaning agents with volatile organic compounds. These measures will help minimize several airborne pollutants from your facility.
Increased ventilation is important because it prevents the buildup of harmful airborne particulates, immediately benefiting productivity. One group of researchers estimated that doubling ventilation costs an organization about US$14-40 per employee per year, while the resulting productivity boost is worth as much as $6,500.
Consider air purifiers, especially in areas that have IAQ problems, such as restrooms and locker rooms, or common areas where people gather, such as classrooms and conference rooms. Commercial-grade air purifiers provide a targeted solution by directly removing contaminants from the air in areas with higher levels of contaminants. This reduces common complaints, such as odors or germs, in problem areas. Using HEPA filters, these devices can remove contagious airborne pathogens, including the flu virus.
Have a Plan
The benefits of improving indoor air quality are abundant for facility executives: fewer complaints, more productive occupants, and more time spent feeling health and well in your facilities. By proactively implementing a comprehensive IAQ plan with targeted air purification, you’ll provide a cleaner facility, increase occupant satisfaction, and earn a return on investment by increasing productivity and reducing absenteeism.