The Camfil Group is a world leader in the development and production of air filters and clean air solutions.
Camfil is also one of the most global air filtration specialists in the world with 26 production units and R&D centers in four countries in the Americas, Europe, South East Asia and the Asia-Pacific region.
While corporate wellness programs often include instructions on diet and exercise to improve employee health and performance, wellness programs may want to start focusing on the environment of the office building itself. Recent studies have found a link between indoor air quality and productivity of staff. A good ventilation system will not only maintain the health and comfort of employees, it will also enhance their cognitive performance and efficiency. Why does poor air quality mean poorer employee performance, and what can be done to ensure the high quality of both?
Relationship between indoor air quality and productivity
Better air quality translates to fewer pollutants in the air and more oxygen. Improved oxygen flow to the brain results in better cognitive performance, while symptoms of oxygen deprivation include a decline in cognition. (1)
A joint study done by Harvard University and Syracuse University investigated the relationship between indoor air quality and productivity. The research teams tested employees under a variety of simulated office environments with various levels of carbon dioxide, emissions from office products and ventilation. The employees were tested and monitored under two different circumstances. One of the test conditions involved employees doing regular tasks in “green” conditions with improved ventilation where carbon dioxide and emission levels were reduced, while the other condition had the employees doing their tasks in regular office building conditions. (2)
“The employees who carried out their tasks under the green environment performed around 60% better in cognitive tasks than the employees who were tested in a standard office environment,” explains Kevin Wood, Camfil USA Vice President Sales & Marketing. “When ventilation was doubled in the green testing conditions, their cognitive performance increased by more than 100%. These findings are compelling reasons to get serious about indoor air quality and productivity in offices and other workplaces, it affects not only the health of your employees but your bottom line.”
In addition to the helpful effects of improved air quality on cognition, good air quality also improves general health. Yet another study was conducted which examined 10 green-certified buildings and found that employees in these circumstances dealt with around 30% fewer headaches and respiratory problems than employees in the average office building. This was on top of a 27% boost in performance on cognitive tasks. Employees even slept better at night.
Investing in the clean indoor air for employees quickly pays for itself. Recent research suggests that spending around $40 a person every year on indoor air quality results in around a $6500 increase in productivity.
Improving indoor air quality and productivity
Improving indoor air quality and productivity can be done once it is determined that a building has air quality problems. Variables like carbon dioxide emissions, humidity, airflow, and temperature can be analyzed to determine if there is a problem with indoor air quality. Preventative steps should also be taken to ensure good air quality. Heating and cooling systems and filters and purifiers should be regularly maintained and inspected to stop the spread of pollutants before they become an issue. (3)
There are three main strategies that must be integrated together to control indoor air quality. Pollutants should be diluted and removed from the building with ventilation, and filtration systems should be used to clean the air of remaining pollutants.
Sources of pollutants should be removed from the building or isolated from occupants using air pressure relationships and physical barriers. Biological contaminants like mold, bacteria, pollen, and other allergens can result from poor maintenance or cleaning and can be brought into the building by occupants or with introduced outside air. Chemical pollutants are often generated by products used within the building like chemical cleaners, or certain appliances. Indoor air quality management programs should work to minimize people’s exposure to these pollutants in the first place.
“As buildings have become increasingly energy efficient they have also become increasingly airtight. This means that less air is flowing in and out of the building, so pollutants can easily become trapped inside,” says Kevin Wood, Camfil USA Vice President Sales & Marketing. “Ventilation is necessary to control air quality under these conditions, as they function by diluting substances such as mold or carbon dioxide. HVAC systems are integral to maintaining good air quality, but they can also be sources of pollutants in some instances, as filters can become contaminated with moisture or dirt which may lead to microbial growth.” (4)
HVAC systems are most effective when designed to meet the needs of the building it is installed in, so if a building is modified the HVAC system should be upgraded to accommodate the changes. For instance, if an office building is retrofitted to hold more employees, the HVAC system should be changed as well.
Facility managers play a critical role in promoting both good indoor air quality and productivity. They should assess the current indoor air quality by reviewing records for HVAC design, installation, and operation and create an indoor air profile for the building that includes potential sources of indoor air pollution.
“Facility managers can educate staff about managing indoor air quality through training and policies for managing pollutant sources. Managers should maintain and operate the building and ventilation system, ensuring high-quality indoor air by creating and reinforcing standard operating and maintenance policies and by quickly responding to spills, floods, leaks or other accidents that could negatively affect indoor air quality”, explains Wood. “Finally, facility managers should be sure to manage potential sources of pollutants such as cigarette smoke, dust, and debris from construction, fumes from pest control products and exhaust fumes from garages.” (5)