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Improve Office Air Pollution

By: Thomas Muller - Updated: 25 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Air Pollution Air Air Quality Pollution

With studies showing that employees are exposed to high levels of air pollution in the office, it is vital that steps are taken to reduce this serious health threat.

Air Pollution Threat to Employee Health and Productivity

Although it may seem a relatively clean and innocuous environment, the office presents a serious risk to the health and wellbeing of its occupants.

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that office air pollution is usually at least two times that of ambient levels and can even be up to a 100 times higher.

Poor quality office air is liable to cause mental fatigue, headaches, dizziness, itchy eyes and throat, stuffy nose and other flu-like symptoms, which have been collectively recognised by the World Health Organisation as ‘sick building syndrome’.

Office Environmental Concerns

Although smoking may now be banned, the office is still far from free from harmful fumes. For instance, recent research by a team of Australian scientists found that the unassuming office laser printer can damage lungs in a similar way to smoke from a cigarette.

The investigation found that a third of printer models emitted potentially harmful levels of toner into the air, in addition to ozone and carbon monoxide.

Considering even tiny amounts of pollutants can have a direct effect of the comfort, productivity and health of employees, taking steps to improve air quality in the office should be a high priority.

Assessing Indoor Sources of Air Pollution

As highlighted above, seemingly innocuous electronic office supplies such as printers, photocopiers and computers can silently pollute the office air.

Such office supplies should be assessed in terms of their location, maintenance and usage. A Danish study on photocopier air pollution found that if such appliances are used excessively, and situated in a space that is too small and poorly ventilated then ozone and other chemicals could surpass the ‘occupational exposure limit’ (OEL) and threaten the health of office staff.

Therefore in order to improve office air quality, photocopiers and laser printers should be well maintained – poor maintenance can lead to an increase in toxic chemical emission – positioned to allow sufficient ventilation and minimise noise, and also not be overused.

Natural Air

Air conditioning can be a godsend during the muggy summer months, freeing employees from the discomfort and energy sapping of a humid office. However as air conditioning is not conducive to good air quality unless it is very well designed and maintained, whenever possible natural open window ventilation is usually the healthier option.

Considering Outside Pollution

Nevertheless, when opening windows it is important to consider outdoor sources of air pollution such as carbon monoxide from a nearby car park or busy street. Outside noise pollution can also have a negative effect on the people in the office and should also be considered.

Office Refurbishment

If the office is due a refurbishment or at least a rearrangement, then there are various office furnishings or fittings choices that can help to reduce office air pollution.

Evidence has shown that fluff can be a cause of office environmental sickness symptoms. For this reason thick pile carpeting, unnecessary use of textiles and fabrics should be avoided.

Another office troublemaker, particularly for asthma sufferers, is dust and so the necessity of anything that attracts dust should be carefully considered. For instance, files should not be stored on open shelves – which are themselves generally inadvisable - but in steel cabinets. And if there is substantial archive files then these should be stored away from the main working area.

Cleaning the Office

If the office is to undergo repainting or other refurbishment that involves toxic substances then it advisable to clear out the area completely rather than cover furnishings with dust sheets, and then leave a post-completion period to allow off-gassing of volatile organic compounds.

It is also recommended that general office cleaning of surfaces is carried out with moistened or dry wipes rather than aerosol sprays.

Plants Purify the Air and Help Asthma Sufferers

Scientific evidence suggesting that plants are good for office air quality is growing. Recent research in Norway found that the introduction of plants in the workplace sparked a clear reduction in health complaints amongst employees, with reports of fatigue falling by 30% and headaches by 20%.

Studies have shown that plants not only help purify the air by replacing the carbon dioxide in the air with oxygen, but they also help reduce the number of allergens in the atmosphere by attracting dust, filter the air of harmful pollutants, lower noise levels and help restore a balance in humidity.

However before you attempt to solve all your office ills by filling it with plants, it is important to note that an excessive number of plants can have detrimental health effects, and so should be employed alongside the measure outlined above.

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