Want To Make Facilities Safe For Employees’ Return To The Office? Improve IAQ.

Improving indoor air quality (IAQ) is among the most critical steps facility managers can take to mitigate employee concerns and maintain a healthy workspace.

By George Negron

The COVID-19 pandemic elevated employee concerns about health and safety in the workplace. Today, as an increasing number of companies and organizations reopen offices to employees, facilities managers are facing the challenge of developing healthy building strategies that address these concerns and work to bring employees back to the office safely.

To help employees feel more confident returning to the office, facility managers are installing touch-free technology that operates lighting, faucets and doors, implementing enhanced cleaning protocols, and creating more usable outdoor space. While these actions help to create a safer, healthier work environment, one of the most critical steps facility executives can take to mitigate employee concerns and maintain a healthy workspace is to improve indoor air quality (IAQ).

Improve IAQ
(Photo: Adobe Stock by bernardbodo)

It is no surprise that improving IAQ is critical to making buildings healthier considering that most people spend about 90% of their time indoors and EPA studies indicate that indoor air can be 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “indoor air quality (also called “indoor environmental quality”) describes how inside air can affect a person’s health, comfort, and ability to work. It can include temperature, humidity, lack of outside air (poor ventilation), mold from water damage, or exposure to other chemicals.”

Poor IAQ in buildings can cause building occupants to experience symptoms of allergies and asthma and suffer from headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. When indoor air quality is poor, occupants also face an increased risk of illness from biological contaminants such as bacteria and viruses.

Recognizing this, the EPA recently launched a “Clean Air in Buildings Challenge,” a call to action for building owners and operators “to assess their indoor air quality and make ventilation and air filtration improvements to help keep occupants safe.” As part of this initiative, the EPA published a best practices guide aimed at helping facility managers reduce risks from airborne viruses and other contaminants indoors. Some of the key actions outlined in this guide include creating a clean indoor air action plan, optimizing fresh air ventilation, and enhancing air filtration and cleaning. The EPA recommends using portable air cleaners to help enhance air filtration and cleaning.

Facility managers can use portable air purifiers to minimize building occupant exposure to biological contaminants such as viruses and bacteria, chemical pollutants including smoke and emissions, and particles like dust and dirt. Air purifiers designed with HEPA filtration and UV-C can easily capture and remove indoor allergens like dust mites, pollen and mold, as well as other particulate matter like smoke. There are even some air purification technologies that go beyond standard filtration to fully break down and destroy air contaminants on a chemical level. Paired with HEPA filtration and UVC, these innovative technologies are able to achieve cleaner, safer indoor spaces through eliminating harmful chemicals, biological pathogens, and pollutants from the air for good.

Improve IAQ, Improve Productivity

Effective air cleaning technologies can improve overall workplace performance, reduce absenteeism, and boost employee satisfaction. Research led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that air pollution can also impact the brain. According to the research, office air quality can significantly impact employees’ cognitive function, including response times and ability to focus, and may also affect their productivity.

Beyond the payoff of improved health and productivity, there is a strong bottom-line case for implementing IAQ solutions. A study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that improving IAQ in the stock of U.S. office buildings could yield $20 billion in economic benefits.

With more organizations requiring employees to return to the office (50% of leaders say their company already requires, or plans to require, full-time in-person work in the year ahead, according to a Microsoft report), facility executives will need to prioritize investing in indoor air quality solutions to help employees feel safer about a return to the office.

Employee well-being is directly impacted by indoor air quality, especially in terms of general health and safety. Employees today are well aware of the health impacts of indoor air quality and are now beginning to expect employers to improve IAQ.  To meet this expectation, facility managers can implement efficient and cost-effective air quality mitigation strategies by utilizing portable air purifiers that capture and destroy active viruses, bacteria, chemicals and other harmful toxins, therefore creating a safer workplace for their employees.

George Negron is Vice President of Customer Operations at EnviroKlenz, an indoor air quality company that makes various air purifier models, including the EnviroKlenz® Mobile Air System and EnviroKlenz® Mobile Air System Plus. EnviroKlenz air purifiers use safe earth minerals to capture and destroy airborne toxic and noxious gases, particulates, allergens, bacteria, viruses and other allergy triggers.