Indoor Air Quality — Its Impact on Your Employees’ Health
A growing number of scientific research indicate that the indoor air within our homes and other buildings can be more polluted in comparison to the outdoor air in even the most industrialized metropolitans1. Between work, social activities, and resting at home, Canadians spend approximately 90% of their time indoors2. Improving indoor air quality, also known as IAQ, is crucial for reducing pollutants and moisture levels, among other things, which can directly or indirectly affect your workforce’s comfort and health.
While individual pollutant sources may not contribute to significant pollution that poses serious health implications on their own, most buildings have multiple sources that contribute to indoor air pollution. Together, these cumulative pollutant sources can result in more serious health risks — especially with prolonged exposure.
Seeing that the average person spends approximately a third of their life at work, indoor air quality should be a crucial health and safety concern for your organization.
Why is Indoor Air Quality Important?
Considering your organization’s indoor air quality is important when trying to create a safe and comfortable environment for your workforce.
Factors that lead to inadequate indoor air quality can include improper or insufficient maintenance of heating and ventilation systems; increased individuals in a building and amount of time spent indoors; contamination from construction materials such as glues, fibreglass, chemicals, paints, and particle boards3.
The impact of indoor air pollution on your health can materialize soon after the exposure or can take years to exhibit.
When your indoor air quality is not sufficient, it can lead to the following issues3:
- Increased health complications, ranging from small issues like eye and respiratory irritations to potentially more serious problems like carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Possible growth of absenteeism and loss of productivity. In fact, a double-blind study from the Harvard School of Public Health revealed that people working in well-ventilated workplaces with low levels of pollutants have double the cognitive function in comparison to individuals working in spaces with average levels of ventilation with the same number of pollutants.
Indoor Air Contaminants and Health
While there are various sources of indoor air pollutants, here are some of the most common air contaminants3 & 4:
- Carbon dioxide
- Carbon monoxide
- Fine particulate matter
- Nitrogen dioxide
- Volatile organic compounds
- Wood burning and smoke
Symptoms of Poor Indoor Air Quality
Like other occupational illnesses, not everyone in your workforce will be affected by poor indoor air quality and exhibit the same extent of symptoms. Some employees may have pre-existing health conditions that make them more sensitive than others. Meanwhile, some associates may be exposed to more indoor air pollutants due to the nature of their job and can showcase symptoms earlier than other workers or experience more severe symptoms3.
Remember, as your workplace’s indoor air quality deteriorates or the length of exposure increases, your workforce is more likely to experience adverse health effects that can result in symptoms.
When or if indoor air quality becomes an issue, it is common for your workforce to report one or a combination of the following symptoms3:
- Dry or irritated eyes, nose, throat, and skin
- Shortness of breath
- Hypersensitivity and allergies
- Congestion of the sinus
- Coughing and sneezing
- Dizziness and nausea
Many of these symptoms can also be attributed to other health conditions, such as a common cold or flu, which makes identifying and resolving poor indoor air quality issues more complicated. However, employees will typically notice their symptoms after several hours at work and start to feel better after leaving the workplace for short or long periods of time3.
Improve Indoor Air Quality
While there are several ways to improve your indoor air quality, the most effective approach is to identify activities or sources that contribute to poor indoor air quality. In an ideal state, once you have identified the activities and sources of pollution, you should strive to remove or reduce the sources of indoor air contaminants5.
However, in many workplaces, it may not always be feasible to eliminate the source of pollutants for many reasons, such as financial limitations, lack of support from decision-makers, and so on. For instance, if you identified that a contributor to your workplace’s poor indoor air quality is a result of outdated plumbing and your organization doesn’t have the financial means to replace it with a new draining system, or a manager doesn’t prioritize the problem.
Consequently, ventilation can be a great way to help improve your indoor air quality. Ventilation describes the movement of air between spaces within a building, as well as moving indoor air outside and bringing outdoor air inside. Proper air ventilation is a key factor in determining good indoor air quality.
Keeping your organization’s doors and windows open to encourage air ventilation is not feasible year-round or is completely unviable due to security protocols for some workplaces. That is why we would suggest air purification devices. A good air purifier can help simulate ventilation while trapping particulates such as harmful pollutants and contaminants through filtration.
Benefits of Good Ventilation Through Air Purifiers
- Reduces the number of indoor air pollutants5
- Limits the build-up of indoor moisture that can contribute to mould growth5
- Removes stale indoor air and increases the amount of clean, fresh air5
Aside from air purifiers and ventilation, consider using heaters, fans, and air conditioners for optimal temperature control at your workplace. Using these devices can help combat poor air quality conditions that can result in a decrease in your workforce’s productivity levels.
Humidifiers and dehumidifiers are other solutions you should consider, as these devices help balance humidity levels. A working environment with well-balanced humidity levels can contribute to the health and safety of your organization, providing benefits to employees that can include minimizing dry and irritated eyes, sinuses, throat, and skin.
Improving your indoor air quality isn’t as simple as plugging in a device — your air quality needs depend on several factors, such as the size of the space, the risk of contaminants, and the clean air delivery rate (CADR). With so many factors involved in finding the right solutions for your workplace, contact us to learn how we can help. Our team of experts will bring their years of experience supporting businesses and organizations across different industries — let us be your partner in workplace safety.