Historically, indoor air quality has been one of the most under-rated threats to public health and business productivity. But this is rapidly changing.
Poor indoor air quality has been identified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as one of the top five most urgent environmental risks to public health , while a new study ‘The impact of working in a green certified building on cognitive function and health’ has found that people working in green buildings think better in the office and sleep better when they get home. This new study concludes that better ventilation, lighting and heat control improves workers’ performance and could boost their productivity by thousands of dollars a year.
Key findings from the research
People working in high performing, green-certified buildings had:
• 26.4% higher cognitive test scores
• 6.4% higher sleep quality scores
• 30% fewer sick building symptoms
In 2015 the World Green Building Council (WGBC) highlighted three main sources of discomfort to occupants. These were:
1. Uncomfortable temperature
2. Inadequate lighting
3. Poor air quality
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the majority of Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors while the national trade union, the TUC, has estimated the average Briton works 43.6 hours against a European average of 40.3. These workers also study, eat, drink, and, in certain work settings, sleep in enclosed environments where fresh air is often delivered through mechanical ventilation, the makeup of which can be compromised. For this reason, some experts believe that more people suffer the effects of indoor air pollution than outdoor air pollution. While there are national and international standards controlling outdoor air quality, there is only guidance for controlling indoor air quality in buildings.
“Some experts believe that more people suffer the effects of indoor air pollution than outdoor air pollution.”
It seems that for many, the quality of the air they breathe rapidly deteriorates once they step inside the front door of many buildings. This failure by industry to measure and manage indoor air quality is short sighted. Organisations want their employees to be as productive as possible during their working hours, however, indoor air quality has played second fiddle to energy efficiency for some time now. This is partly because its benefits are difficult to measure and partly because achieving good levels of indoor air quality can appear to be a complex process. In the UK, a building’s green credentials are often defined by compliance with regulatory drivers such as Part L of Building Regulations and Energy Performance Certificates which ignore indoor air quality and are an arbitrary measure of only certain energy loads (so-called regulated loads) which often have no relationship with the operational performance of a building. This focus on regulatory compliance and energy efficiency means that it is often all too easy for building owners, designers and engineers to lose sight of the primary purpose of buildings, which is to protect workers and provide them with a useful, healthy and pleasant environment to undertake their work.
“Organisations want their employees to be as productive as possible during their working hours, however, indoor air quality has played second fiddle to energy efficiency for some time now”
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