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Improving indoor air will improve business

Air quality is the term we use to describe how polluted the air we breathe is. When air quality is poor, pollutants in the air may be hazardous to people, particularly children or those with lung or heart conditions.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has labelled indoor air quality as “the world’s largest single environmental health risk”, as these well-established health impacts filter through extensively to our workforce.

Better workplace air quality and a healthier workforce carries substantial benefits for both businesses and their employees, improving workplace satisfaction, employee wellbeing, company reputation and productivity. 

Businesses can take several steps to begin improving air quality in the workplace.

Sian Bird Sian Bird Marketing Graduate

Why this is important?

Higher absenteeism

Air quality in your workplace directly affects the absence rate of your employees.

A recent report conducted by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) found that air pollution causes three million lost working days each year in the UK.

It also showed that work absences alone related to poor air were costing Britain around £600m a year, due to people missing work from poor health caused by air pollution.

Lower productivity

Productivity is also affected by air quality, with a poor air quality reducing the cognitive function of employees. These effects include slower response times and a lower ability to function.

In an average size meeting room without adequate ventilation, three people can cause CO2 to reach a level that affects their cognitive function in just 45 minutes.

Health and safety

Further to this, poor indoor air quality is a health and safety risk, with is being linked to illnesses such as asthma, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, irritation of airways, headaches and nausea.

All employers have a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to provide a safe and healthy work environment, which includes providing safe and healthy air quality.

How can businesses improve air quality?

Businesses can take several steps to begin improving air quality in the workplace.

This not only benefits the employee by improving productivity and reducing absences, but studies have also shown that employee satisfaction rises amongst workers whose employers make an investment in improving indoor air quality.

The first step is to properly regulate temperature, as well as this impacting employee’s comfort, it also impacts humidity which is a source of indoor air pollution.

A well designed air conditioning system that is properly controlled and maintained can meet this challenge, helping to regulate temperature (and humidity) regardless of influencing conditions.

Another way that businesses can improve indoor air quality is by installing good ventilation, this involves intentionally introducing outdoor air to dilute and displace indoor pollutants.

Modern systems offer Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) which captures otherwise lost heat energy from the outgoing stale air to heat up the colder incoming fresh air and save energy.

Indoor pollution

Pollutants can be brought indoors to affect the air in a number of ways, including on dry cleaned clothes, office equipment and even cleaning products.

Keeping the workplace clean and hygienic prevents particulate matter from building up, which is one of the easiest ways to improve air quality.

Pollutants from cleaning can also be minimised by purchasing cleaning products which are rated low or no VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds). Keeping printers and photocopiers out of areas with high occupancy can further reduce pollutants.

In workplaces where employees are exposed to harmful fumes or fibres, employers must ensure that appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is supplied.

Bring nature indoors

Indoor plants have been proved by endless studies to remove a wide range of air contaminants, but one recent study has also shown that they have the ability to clean up petrol vapours.

Offices often connect directly to carparks, making it difficult for many businesses to avoid harmful petrol-related compounds. This means that something as simple as having plants indoors can make an even bigger difference than just absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen.

Continuous monitoring of IAQ is vital, with it fluctuating so much daily and so many influencing factors. There are various options for doing this, from relatively low-cost smart devices to more advanced air quality monitoring systems.

The most effective way for businesses to improve their indoor air is by investing in high-quality HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems.

Modern systems allow control over filtration, ventilation rates, humidity and temperature to optimise air quality and keep occupants comfortable, happy and productive.

How can we help?

Mitsubishi Electric has helped numerous businesses improve their air quality, allowing them to see all the benefits this provides across the workplace.

One of the simplest places to start is by downloading the BASH (Buildings As Safe Havens) Guide, which we produced in collaboration with BESA (Building Engineering Services Association).

This includes a foreword from Professor Cath Noakes OBE, who co-chaired a Government SAGE group during the Covid pandemic. She calls ventilation one of the "most overlooked building safety issues".

The BASH Guide includes the questions to ask your ventilation supplier and details a step by step approach to improving IAQ, including a risk assessment form.

It’s clear that the demand for clean indoor air and improved energy efficiency in increasingly airtight buildings has caused a surge in demand for mechanical ventilation, for more information download our ventilation brochure.

Sian Bird is Marketing Graduate