By Mike Booth
From the June 2017 Issue
These days, facility managers are tasked with more. There are more responsibilities, more occupant interaction, more belt-tightening decisions—and more opportunities to truly affect change. It’s why Joseph Allen, Ph.D., director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment made a provocative pronouncement: he said a facility manager has more of an impact in the health and well-being of workers than even physicians.
It makes sense. After all, we spend 90% of our time indoors, on average. And of that time, we spend at least nine hours a day in the company of other people indoors; those people, like it or not, spread germs. It’s no wonder facility managers are increasingly seeking out ways to ensure healthy environments.
Clearly, facilities need to clean smarter, not harder, turning to different solutions. For example, most facility managers still rely on the age-old practice of hand sanitizers and surface cleaning to stop the spread of germs. Yet, germs and viruses still pass from one building occupant to the next through the air. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets dispersed when infected people cough, sneeze, or talk. The droplets can spread to others up to six feet away.
And so, facility managers are more concerned with indoor air quality (IAQ), as well as ways to influence it.
There’s been a dramatic uptick in participation from facility managers when I’ve presented webinars on IAQ matters. In short: more people want to how improved quality of air complements current cleaning practices and what they can do to positively affect the IAQ in their buildings.
IAQ becomes vital for the well-being of occupants, and indoor pollutants like volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can’t be taken lightly. For example, the study “Association of Domestic Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds with Asthma in Young Children” concluded that VOCs exacerbate allergies and asthma and can cause dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and impaired thinking. What’s more, 10 million people have allergic asthma triggered by airborne allergens, making allergies—and the indoor air polluted by VOCs—a major cause of absenteeism. Ultimately, there’s a lot of bad air out there.
So, consider a two-pronged approach: cleaning differently and cleaning the air. Of course, green cleaning techniques can significantly reduce the incidences of VOCs in the air and on surfaces, because green cleaning solvents don’t rely on VOCs in the first place.
However, to clean indoor spaces further, one must look beyond cleaning surfaces and consider cleaning the air. And to do that effectively, facility managers can consider standalone air purification systems. Why standalone? Simply because just placing a HEPA air filter in existing HVAC systems drags down the efficiency of that very same system.
By using this approach, facility managers are left with two choices: bear the complaints about stuffy rooms because the HVAC system is not circulating air powerfully enough; or crank up the system, costing more money in utility bills. Additionally, HVAC can accelerate the spread of germs and viruses.
Instead, commercial-grade air purifiers use sophisticated technology and True HEPA filtration to rid indoor spaces of up to 99.97% of airborne contaminants, including VOCs, germs, allergens, and odors. These can be placed in problem areas to hone in on air quality issues, like restrooms. This provides a more complete solution to odors in those spaces and can serve as a gateway to air purification being introduced into other areas.
The importance of improving indoor air quality—in all areas of a facility—cannot be understated. In fact, it pays dividends in worker productivity.
For example, in 2015, a comprehensive study regarding the impact of environment on cognitive functions, called COGfx, was undertaken. In the study, 24 participants were given cognitive performance tests to compare test scores in office environments with enhanced IAQ versus conventional environments. Based on the study, workers in the IAQ environment scored significantly higher in all tests. More information on the study can be found here.
So, improving indoor air not only makes for a more healthy and safer environment, but it can make facility management the key to improved operations as well. And that’s a responsibility that any facility manager will enjoy.
Booth is senior global marketing manager for the Air Treatment category at Fellowes Brands. He has spent the last three years evangelizing the need to focus on indoor air quality and the impact it can have on people’s health and well-being. He is a seven-year veteran at Fellowes, and has worked in various marketing capacities with a focus on productivity and health in commercial environments.
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