In our last post we delved into the causes and symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome and touched on how indoor air quality plays its role. For any organisation operating in urbanised hubs like London, the pandemic has brought added challenges and it’s raised significant awareness for how air pollution is affecting our health.
Air quality and its impact on our health at work is not a new subject although Coronavirus has certainly brought focus to the topic. In last year’s (pre-Covid-19) Department for Transport’s National Travel survey 48% of the respondents said they were concerned about air pollution and this leapt to 59% of those living and working in urbanised areas. The irony is that outdoor pollution is actually nowhere near as problematic as the air in the buildings we occupy:
Indoor air is predicted to be between 2x and 5x more polluted than outdoor air.
In the UK it’s estimated there may be as many as 40k premature deaths a year relating to indoor air quality (IAQ) and its increasingly considered to have a definitive causal relationship with death rates for CV-19 too (as was announced recently by the WHO). This has brought about a renewed focus on the wellbeing of employees and customers working for extended periods in the built environment.
The fact is – our environment clearly affects how we perform at work and air pollution is consistently ranked among our most worrying environmental dangers.
Pre-Covid, employees would spend nearly one third of their lives at work… often in excess of 90,000 hours. Knowing this time is spent in an environment that may be 2-5 times as polluted than sitting on the main road outside is alarming. But being outside all the time is simply not an option (not in the UK anyway!). And working from home is not the solution either – homes are potentially much more polluted (some research indicates sometimes up to 30x the outdoor air levels).
The average person spends just 8% of their time outside overall.
In the last year’s figures for absence, the ONS reported a staggering 14.8 million days had been lost during 2018 and further research has suggested potentially up to 40% of those days could be attributed to SBS and therefore be prevented. This is money being lost through preventable means and businesses operating in the post Covid-world cannot afford to ignore it any longer. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO once described air pollution as the “new tobacco”.
Managing and improving air quality in your premises goes above and beyond preventing absences, however. Workplaces with high levels of CO2 can reduce productivity by up to 11%.
One US study reported up to a 60% improvement in the cognitive tests taken by children based on improving their air quality alone in their classrooms. This demonstrates a huge opportunity for improvement if the right remedies are applied (and sustained) to keep our workplaces and schools properly ventilated.
A small increase in CO2 (by 1000ppm) can impair cognitive performance in the same way that 1.5 pints of beer can in men, and 2 pints of beer can in women.
A recent study published by Joseph G. Allen in The Harvard Business Review actually found that “breathing better air led to significantly better decision-making performance”. He estimated the cost of doubling ventilation rates would be less than £32 per person per year, while the productivity benefits from doubling ventilation rates are likely to be in excess of £5,263 per person per year”. The latter figure doesn’t even take into account the associated health benefits including reductions in absenteeism.
As with most health and wellbeing issues – prevention is better than a cure. Employers navigating the pandemic cannot afford to ignore the wider impacts their buildings and premises may be having on workers health and productivity. As people return slowly to their usual places of work it should be more evident than ever where you have problems that need addressing.
Talk to us to find out what you can do to prevent SBS, improve indoor air quality and find how Total Environment Cleaning can play a role in creating a consistently well workplace that positive impacts your employees health, wellbeing and productivity.