90% of our time is spent indoors, including the time we spend at work. Breathing quality air in our offices or businesses is therefore essential, not only because it will prevent health problems, but also as it relieves stress and increases productivity.
We breathe better, we work better
Harvard Business School1 has shown that there is a direct relationship between ventilation quality and workers' cognitive functions (an indicator of productivity). Its research, part of Harvard's Healthy Buildings programme, involved modifying the environmental conditions in a work environment in order to see how this influenced people's performance and behaviour.
Special attention was paid to the level of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), checking their effect on workers. Decision-making, strategy-building and planning by employees all improved when air quality was good. According to data published by the World Green Building Council2, offices that combine low levels of CO2 and VOCs with good ventilation see cognitive functions among staff increase by up to 101%.
Good ventilation and air filtration are beneficial for health and the quality of life, leading to financial improvements for the company. Research from Harvard University and Syracuse University3 has concluded that improving ventilation in work buildings for less than $40 per person per year would increase production by 8%, representing an increase in productivity of $6500 per employee per year
Sick Building Syndrome
Although our workspaces should be healthy places, office buildings present problems that can lead to what WHO has defined as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). This name is given to the "set of disturbances caused by poor ventilation, thermal imbalance, electromagnetic charges and suspended chemical particles and vapours that circulate inside the building in which we live or work".4
There are two types of sick building, according to the WHO: temporarily sick and permanently sick. Temporarily sick cases generally involve new or recently refurbished buildings in which the symptoms disappear over time. The symptoms in permanently sick buildings, in contrast, remain for many years.5
The most common symptoms are not serious, but they can be a nuisance in our daily lives and impair our ability to work. Depending on the building, such symptoms may include feelings of tiredness, headaches, dry eyes or throat, nausea and dizziness, all of which improve when leaving the building.6
The Spanish Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, together with the National Institute of Safety and Hygiene at Work,7 point to insufficient ventilation as being one of the main causes of this problem. Environmental pollutants from various sources will accumulate and affect workers' health if the indoor air is not adequately renewed.
Some of these pollutants come from building and decoration materials, such as formaldehyde, organic vapours, powders and adornments; while others come from office products, such as ozone from photocopiers, or cleaning products; and some particles are introduced in the building from the outside air, such as sulphur dioxide or radon.
The thermal environment can also affect SBS. The National Institute of Health and Safety at Work recommends a temperature of between 23 ºC and 26 ºC in summer and between 20 ºC and 24 ºC in winter, with these values being similar to those recommended in the Building Thermal Installations Regulation (RITE). This regulation also states that relative humidity should be kept between 40 and 60% in order to avoid the appearance of harmful micro-organisms.8
Tips to keep the air in your business or office clean9
- Do not block vents with furniture.
- Make sure filters are cleaned and changed frequently.
- Avoid using products such as adhesives, solvents or strong cleaners. If they are to be used, be sure to monitor ventilation more exhaustively.
- Increase the amount of air introduced and extracted by increasing ventilation operating time.10
- Increase the proportion of outside air as much as possible.
- Take care of maintaining the filters, ensuring they do not become saturated and can therefore work properly.
- Keep relative humidity between 40 and 60%.