The Importance of Workplace Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and 5 Ways to Improve It
Many significant sources of indoor air pollution are difficult or impossible to eliminate in most office buildings. Here's how can you improve indoor air quality to protect building occupants.
Most people are aware of the threats associated with outdoor air pollution from smog, vehicle exhaust, industrial processes, and more, such as environmental damage and human health damage. But what you may not know is that indoor air can be up to 50 times as polluted as outdoor air.
What Are the Signs of Poor Indoor Air Quality?
Poor indoor air quality can be a serious threat to human health in the long term. In the short term, it can cause what is known as “sick building syndrome, leading to decreases in productivity, poor cognition, irritability moods or mood swings, as well as worsening symptoms of respiratory conditions such as asthma and allergies and leading to increased sick time among employees.
Some common signs that your office’s indoor air quality needs to be important include:
The Most Common Workplace Pollutants
While indoor air pollution in the workplace Can come from obvious sources such as smoking indoors, some of the most common workplace pollutants that affect indoor air quality may be unexpected.
Cleaning chemicals. Especially as we return to our offices and increase the frequency of cleaning procedures to protect employees, clients, and guests against COVID-19, cleaning chemicals, including bleach, can be a major source of indoor air pollution.
Printers and copier machines. Any machines or equipment that use large quantities of ink can also be a significant source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Shared occupancy spaces. Many office buildings share their space with other operations to decrease overhead costs. While this is a great idea on the money-saving front, commercial HVAC systems aren’t typically designed to handle this kind of pollution. Without adequate air filtration and ventilation, this can pose a serious health threat to all building occupants.
Furniture and furnishings. New furniture is one of the most common sources of VOC off-gassing, emitting compounds such as formaldehyde into the indoor environment. This is especially true in the case of cheap or mass manufactured furniture.
Air fresheners. While it may feel like an air freshener is an absolute necessity when working in close quarters with other people, air fresheners can linger in the air and worsen indoor air quality without proper ventilation.
5 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality
As you can see from the list above, many significant sources of indoor air pollution are difficult or impossible to eliminate in most office buildings. So how can you improve indoor air quality to protect building occupants?
Keep your workplace clean. Eliminating dust, mold, allergens, and other contaminants from your building regularly will stop them from continually circling around the entire building through your HVAC system. If possible, use environmentally friendly cleaning supplies, which don’t give off as many harmful chemical residues as harsher chemicals such as bleach do.
Use an air cleaner. An air cleaner or air purifier removes dust and debris from the air on it’s own, so it doesn’t need to be attached to an air handling unit or ventilation system. However, it is important to only purchase an air cleaner from a reputable producer. Many that you can find on Amazon falsely claim to deliver HEPA-level filtration, leading you to spend money on something that just does not work.
Upgrade your HVAC air filters. There are many benefits to upgrading your HVAC air filters, including reduced energy costs and reduced damage to your HVAC system. By default, HVAC systems come equipped with filters that only provide the bare minimum amount of filtration to stop the HVAC equipment from being damaged by large debris. This is not enough to protect human lungs, as it still allows smaller particulate matter to circulate around the building.
Make sure you have proper ventilation. While replacing your entire HVAC system may be costly and impractical, there are several steps you can take to improve ventilation in your office. If your building is located in a low-pollution area, opening windows is one easy way to increase ventilation. Also, be sure that there is nothing sitting in front of your vents, as this blocks air flow and causes offices to feel stuffy.
Regularly check IAQ. You should also be regularly checking indoor air quality before poor air quality gets out of hand. This will provide you with the information you need to more directly tailor an air filtration and ventilation plan that addresses your specific needs.