Effects of Air Quality in the Workplace
Last Updated on August 5, 2021
If it seems like Americans work a lot, it’s because they do. According to the International Labor Organization, Americans work the longest hours among industrialized countries. Whether it’s culture-related, a byproduct of capitalism or something else entirely, it’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
Although multiple regulatory bodies ensure basic clean air laws in each state, many decisions about indoor air quality are completely left up to the employer, a reality that begs the question: what sort of environment do employers owe employees?
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is responsible for regulating basic workplace safety laws, released guidance on ventilation in the workplace. However, it’s not logistically possible for the agency to enforce proper ventilation and air quality in every workspace in the country. As a business owner who values their employees, it’s up to you to ensure that workers breathe clean, uncontaminated air when they’re on the job.
Keep reading to learn about the effects of air quality in the workplace, as well as how our Air Oasis products can help you and your employees start breathing easier.
Effects of Air Quality in the Workplace
If you’re like most people, you probably only think about air quality as it relates to ambient air quality (outdoor air quality). Wildfire smoke, agricultural dust, smoke plumes from industrial plants — these are the types of pollution most people associate with poor air quality. However, recent data suggests that indoor air quality can be more severely polluted than outdoor air quality, even in major industrial cities. A business’ poor indoor air quality can cause a number of adverse health consequences for the people who work there.
Here are some illustrations of the quantifiable outcomes of poor workplace air quality.
Indoor Air Quality at Work Causes Sinus Infections
In 1984, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a report suggesting that up to 30% of new and remodeled buildings across the world could be vulnerable to excessive indoor air quality complaints. By 1986, the phenomenon was so ubiquitous that the WHO gave it a name: sick building syndrome (SBS). SBS is a complex spectrum of many symptoms ranging from asthma to gastrointestinal disturbances to neurotoxic effects. One cardinal feature of SBS is mucous membrane irritation.
Chronic irritation of the mucous membrane results in inflammation. When the sinus cavities (which are normally filled with air) become severely inflamed, they can get blocked and fill with the fluid that normally drains from the nose. Without drainage, the nose has no way to flush out harmful bacteria. When bacteria is trapped in the fluid-filled cavities, it can cause a sinus infection. Unfortunately, people who have chronic irritation and inflammation of the mucous membranes as a result of SBS are more likely to develop sinusitis and, subsequently, sinus infections.
Researchers say that one of the primary causes of SBS is breathing air that’s constantly recycled but never cleaned. More broadly, many symptoms of SBS are dependent on factors such as whether a building’s windows open, whether the building’s air is humidified, whether the air is conditioned, whether the building has carpet and so on. Data shows a strong link between ventilation and the respiratory health of the building’s occupants, suggesting that improving indoor air quality can also improve health outcomes.
If you’re starting to see the effects of air quality in the workplace and want to prevent your employees from suffering conditions such as sinus infections, reach out to us about our commercial-grade G3 Series UV Ionic Air Purifier.
Indoor Air Quality at Work Causes Cold and Allergy Symptoms
Think about it: if your building has energy-efficient, airtight windows that prevent air from escaping, no mechanism by which to bring in new air, and a ventilation system that merely recycles stale air, what does that mean? It means that allergens, viruses, bacteria and other pollutants can be brought in, but will likely never escape. They’ll merely be circulated throughout your building and through the lungs of the people in your workforce.
The employees who suffer the most from increased levels of indoor contaminants are people with allergies and asthmatics. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, people can carry outdoor allergens such as pollen inside, where it becomes trapped. Other common indoor allergens include dust, dust mites, cockroaches and mold, especially if the indoor space is damp.
One of the most effective ways to protect workers who suffer from seasonal allergies is to run an Air Oasis air purifier for allergens. The iAdaptAir® HEPA air purifier combines the top five technologies — high-quality HEPA filter, carbon filter, germicidal ultraviolet, Bi-Polar® ionization and AHPCO® ionization — to effectively remove all allergens from the air.
Poor Air Quality at Work
An office or industrial building’s poor air quality could also be putting your employees at risk by exposure to the following contaminants:
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) originate from many sources, including paints, aerosol spray, dry-cleaned clothing, pesticides and disinfectants. They can also be emitted from office equipment such as printers and copiers. As certain equipment will continuously release VOCs, it’s not enough to clean your office; you need to purify the air.
- Bacteria and viruses will inevitably be carried into your workplace by employees. Fortunately, all Air Oasis air purifiers work against bacteria and viruses, which means in addition to protecting your employees from pollutants originating in your building, you can also help protect them from COVID-19.
- Particulates such as second-hand smoke and wildfire smoke pose a health risk to anyone trapped in the same space with them. These particulates can recirculate in the office and get stuck in fabric and carpets.
As if you needed another reason to improve your air quality, exposure to the above contaminants can also affect the cognitive functioning of your employees. Neuroinflammation can pose serious health risks. From a business perspective, it can also decrease productivity, creativity and critical thinking skills.
Workplace Air Quality Testing
You may be thinking, “My place of business doesn’t have any of those contaminants!” You’d be surprised. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air pollution is often between two and five times greater than outdoor air pollution. One study estimated that 800,000 workers die every year as a result of poor indoor air quality in their workplace. Unless you’re actively fighting poor indoor air quality with proven purification methods, chances are good that your workplace is harming your employees. To know for sure, you should test your air quality.
How to Test Air Quality at Work
There are several ways to test indoor air quality, including the following:
- Purchase an indoor air quality monitor. High-quality monitors will test for particulate matter, chemical pollutants, humidity, carbon monoxide and even formaldehyde.
- Install carbon monoxide alarms. You can easily purchase these at most hardware and home stores. Installation is painless, and it could save lives.
- Conduct a radon test. Free radon test kits are sometimes available at local health departments and are widely available online.
- Buy a mold test kit. If you can already see mold in certain places, that’s all the confirmation you need. However, mold can do just as much damage from unseen places, which is why you should buy a test kit.
How to Improve Indoor Air Quality in the Office
Testing the air quality of your office is a great place to start, but don’t neglect one crucial inquiry: asking your employees about their experience. This can provide a lot of insight, especially because different people are prone to different allergies and sensitivities. Communicating directly with your employees about air quality will increase the effectiveness of your efforts, as well encourage positive feedback loops.
Indoor Air Quality in Modern Office Buildings
Modern buildings tend to suffer from SBS and poor air quality more than older buildings. During the first energy crisis in the 1970s, building owners started taking steps to reduce energy consumption. One of the ways they did this is by installing more insulation, building wraps, weatherstripped doors, and insulated double- and triple-pane windows that often don’t open. Although these measures effectively reduced the loss of cooled or heated air, they also created airtight buildings from which pollutants and contaminants could not escape.
Office Air Purifiers
As the research shows, the effects of air quality in the workplace can be devastating for employees’ health. As a business owner, you have the ability to mitigate the negative health consequences caused by poor indoor air quality. Air Oasis office air purifiers offer protection against airborne pollutants and can even destroy surface contaminants.
At the end of the day, ensuring good indoor air quality is just part of being a conscientious leader, especially if you’re in an industry that exposes workers to higher levels of chemical pollutants.
Air Oasis works with businesses across all industries to find the perfect air purifier to suit their needs. We can help you determine which size of air purifier you need based on the square footage of your business, as well as the type of air purifier that will perform best based on your specific concerns.