Is office air pollution making you sick?

Indoor Pollution

Air pollution is something most of us associate with being outside in busy cities, but indoor air quality is often up to five times worse than outdoor air pollution. Bad practices in some workplaces could push this up to as much as 100 times worse. A recent survey revealed that almost 70% of UK office workers have concerns about indoor air quality in their workplace. They believe it has a negative impact on their well-being and productivity, citing symptoms such as fatigue, poor concentration and irritated eyes.

Sick Building Syndrome

Experts have now identified something called ‘sick building syndrome’ (SBS). This occurs when spending time in a particular building causes occupants to suffer acute health issues, even though the exact cause cannot be isolated. It’s thought that many things may contribute to SBS, including:

  • Poor ventilation throughout the building
  • Indoor chemical contaminants from sources such as carpeting, furnishings and electronics
  • Outdoor chemical contaminants from sources entering the building without proper filtering
  • Biological contaminants such as mold, bacteria and viruses

Typical symptoms of sick building syndrome include chronic headaches, nausea and persistent coughing and infections. Even much milder indoor air quality issues may lead to ‘brain fog’, lapses in concentration and under performance in mental tasks.

Negative effects

It isn’t surprising that this has an effect on workplace productivity. It leads to physical and mental health issues, absenteeism, and low morale and satisfaction among employees. Holding client meetings in buildings with poor air quality may even have a negative impact on outcomes. Many people feel the effects of sitting in a ‘stuffy’ meeting room within an hour.

It’s easy to see how air pollution in office blocks and other indoor spaces can deteriorate to unacceptable levels. It’s tempting to keep windows closed, especially if you’re in the middle of a busy city or industrial area. You think you’re keeping pollution out, but some sources of pollution, such as chemicals in building materials and cleaning products, are inside the building already. In addition, in a sealed building with lots of employees, the carbon dioxide levels will slowly increase with every breath each employee takes.

Making Improvements

Air conditioning can help, but only if it includes proper filters to ensure the pollutants in outside air are not just pulled into the building to join any pollutants already in there. With many UK buildings still to invest in air conditioning, this is something to keep in mind. Modern air filtration technology is capable of filtering close to 2000 cubic metres of air an hour, and while the technology is expensive, so is decreased productivity, employee ill health, absenteeism and low morale. Other ways to improve indoor air quality include:

  • Investing in air purifiers
  • Auditing indoor spaces for pollutants in carpets, furnishings and equipment
  • Choosing natural building materials when possible
  • Opting for natural cleaning products and methods

In a work environment, time is money and productivity is key. It is well worth improving employee health and performance by monitoring and improving indoor air quality in the workplace.

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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