According to the Environmental Protection Agency, also known as the EPA, indoor air quality can be up to five times more polluted than the smoggy atmosphere outside. Most people pay attention to the pollution warnings on their local news channels, even staying inside their homes or office buildings in order to stay “safe.” Unfortunately, these individuals may be breathing even more contaminants while spending time in their houses and offices.
Chatting Around the Water Cooler
At work, employees might be sniffling, coughing, and even wheezing, but they might not suspect that their office buildings are to blame. Instead, they may gather around the water cooler and blame the weather, the flu, or whatever seasonal plant is blooming outdoors. Some of the symptoms that occur include:
- Irritated eyes
- Respiratory infections
In addition to these ailments, individuals who are inhaling in polluted air-spaces might suffer from limited attention spans and low productivity on the job. This can cost companies that are housed in airtight buildings some big dollars. In fact, OSHA estimates that poor indoor air quality (IAQ) costs employers in the neighborhood of $15 billion in sick leave and poor work performance each year.
Employers Take Action
Today, companies are taking action to create a healthier workforce, but their tactics are often missing the mark. Ignoring their indoor air as a cause of employee ailments, employers are focusing on the home life of their employees and instituting wellness programs. These encourage workers to:
- Eat more nutritious cuisine
- Exercise regularly
- Practice stress management
While these practices are certainly beneficial and generally good advice to help improve quality of life, they won’t help to relieve symptoms caused by poor IAQ. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s performed research that showed that an employee’s performance at work can be improved by 10 percent if air quality is cleaned up.
Reasons for Indoor Air Pollution
Why is the air inside office buildings so polluted? For one thing, workers are spending much more time indoors than they did in previous eras. Today, an American spends 90 percent of his or her time inside, and there are hazardous pollutants looming in the air, such as:
- Chemicals in a Work Space: There are chemicals emanating from technological hardware, cleaning products, furniture, and construction materials.
- Copiers and Printers: Volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs, are emitted from printers and copy machines.
- Floor and Wall Coverings: Ozone and tiny particulates are released from flooring materials and wall coverings.
- Paints and Furnishings: Formaldehyde and toluene are just a couple of the hundreds of VOCs being released from furniture and the paint in a building.
- Computers and Electronics: These products send emissions into the environment from adhesive, circuits, and plastics. Because computers and electronic gadgetry heat up, the effects are magnified.
- Pest Control: Most commercial facilities have some sort of weekly or monthly pest control service to kill bugs, and while employees may deeply appreciate a pest-free workplace, these treatments send toxins into the air.
What Can Be Done
Although The World Health Organization estimates the nearly a third of all renovated or new construction has problems with IAQ, steps can be taken to improve the situation. After smoking was banned in American offices, for example, air quality drastically improved. Changes can be made to curtail other pollutants as well, for example:
- Bring outdoor air in with proper ventilation.
- Confine networked printers in well-ventilated areas.
- Use slower print speeds on personal printers.
- Install an air purifier.
- Purchase green, low-chemical office products, furniture, and paints.
- Maintain a stable temperature to discourage condensation and mold growth.
Every step employers take to create a healthier environment for workers can lead to increased productivity and a healthier bottom line. Employees will feel more comfortable and well, which may help prevent them from calling in sick. Small steps can lead to big results, allowing everyone to breathe a sigh of relief.