poor air quality at work

What Poor Air Quality at Work Can Mean for Today’s Workforce

Jane Marsh - March 2, 2020

Do your lungs almost hurt the minute you walk into your business? Poor air quality at work impacts productivity and workers’ health. Things such as carpeting, building materials and poor ventilation influence indoor air quality (IAQ). OSHA reports that IAQ not up to par can result in fatigue, headaches and irritation of the nose, eyes, throat and lungs. It seems as though everywhere you turn, people are talking about going green and improving sustainability. Today’s workforce is more environmentally conscious than ever before. They may even choose a company to work at based on how well the organization embraces eco-friendly practices. Improving poor air quality at work and green business go together like solar panels and sunshine. There are some simple things brands can do to better IAQ. Even small changes have a big impact on the health and well-being of workers.

How Does IAQ Get Bad?

When a building is first constructed, there may not be any apparent issues. However, over time, pollutants enter the atmosphere, and the air can start to smell musty and even taste bitter to those working in the building. Some of the issues that cause a reduction in the health of the building include:

  • The type of materials used in construction (some give off chemical emissions)
  • Tobacco use (most buildings are smoke-free, but past usage may have contributed)
  • Lack of proper ventilation
  • Dirty heating and cooling ducts
  • Mold and mildew formed from condensation 

Even small issues such as lack of fresh air and not cleaning the office thoroughly contribute to a sick building. 

Finding the Cause of Building Issues

If your workers complain about the smell of the air or have trouble breathing or focusing on work, it’s time to figure out where the problem is so you can fix it. Tracking down the source of air pollution isn’t always an easy task. The culprits may be more than a single cause. Start by hiring an HVAC professional to inspect the heating and cooling system. Check for any debris and dust in the ducts and clean as necessary. Ask about ventilation and if it is adequate for the building’s needs.

If your heating and cooling system receives the green light, invest in air testing kits and check for mold, asbestos, toxic gases and carbon monoxide. 

Solutions to Poor Air Quality at Work

Once you figure out the cause of faulty IAQ, there are some clear changes you can make that will enhance the space and advance the conditions of your workspace. 

1. Obtain a LEED Certification

When building new construction, stick to green standards set out by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The certification looks at both new construction and renovations of older buildings. Adhering to their strict standards not only improves the quality of the space itself, but it also prevents air pollution to neighboring businesses and homes. 

2. Use the IoT for Monitoring

The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing at a rapid pace. People use apps and devices throughout their day both at home and at work. However, the IoT may be the next frontier in monitoring air quality. Adding something as simple as a few sensors to your main workspace gives a clear indication of any problems as they arise. Picture a ventilation system that senses when the air grows stale and needs refreshing and opens up vents and blasts fresh air into your building. Rather than constant monitoring of quality, sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) do all the work for you.

3. Deep Clean Your Space

Over time, dust accumulates and gets trapped in the air. You can reduce dust in the air by cleaning regularly. When humans are in a space, dead skin cells flake off and join the other debris. Yuck! In addition to a good deep clean, invest in an air purifying system to pull additional dust specs from the atmosphere. 

4. Open the Windows

A simple solution that people have used for centuries involves opening windows to let stale air out and bring fresh air in. This method works best when you create a cross-breeze — opening two windows opposite one another or placing fans strategically in front of opposite windows work to pull in clean breezes. If your office doesn’t come equipped with windows that open, then you’ll need to turn to other measures, such as installing a system that filters the air. 

5. Change Air Filters More Frequently

Even though your HVAC system is a commercial one, your business may have grown since it was installed. There may be additional workers, or you may have expanded into previously unused spaces. Whatever schedule you’re on for changing your system’s air filters, decrease the time between swapping out an old filter. Also, remember that many units have both inside filters and outside filters that must be removed and cleaned. Invest in a good system check and cleaning every six months or so to make sure the system runs at maximum efficiency, and any dirt is removed in a timely manner. 

Combating Poor Air Quality at Work

If you suspect your building has poor indoor air quality, take the steps above to alleviate the problem. The health and productivity of workers can be harmed by the environment in which they spend the majority of their day. However, attention to the issue can improve IAQ quickly. 

About the author

Jane Marsh

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.