Answer the Call: Improve Indoor Air Quality and Improve Health

Answer the Call: Improve Indoor Air Quality and Improve Health

Clean air is attainable and beneficial for the bottom line if approached correctly.

In March, as part of the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, the EPA released the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, a call to action for all building owners and operators, schools, colleges and universities and organizations of all kinds to improve the indoor air quality (IAQ). This move from the EPA is a great first step toward cleaner and safer indoor spaces for office workers, teachers and students, renters and other building occupants, and signifies a growing awareness in this area since the onset of the pandemic. Facility managers, landlords and building operators should take note and begin their IAQ journey now.  

Implementing the federal guidelines begins with an understanding of how air quality impacts the health and safety of occupants, includes accurate monitoring and recognizes the importance of data security. Clean air is attainable and beneficial for the bottom line if approached correctly. 

What Makes Indoor Air Quality Important?  

We often focus on outdoor air pollution but according to the EPA, people spend 90 percent of their time indoors where the concentrations of some pollutants are often two to five times higher than those found outside. And while air quality in indoors spaces has been largely overlooked in the past, the pandemic brought forth a newfound awareness and concern from consumers and now, the government. According to a recent worldwide survey, 72 percent of office workers report being worried about the air quality of their office space and more than 60 percent are prepared to leave their job if their employer does not address their concerns to establish a healthier indoor environment. 

For those looking to implement the strategies suggested by the EPA, which includes creating an indoor air action plan and optimizing fresh air ventilation, it is important to first understand the underlying, invisible variables that exist in the air and impact quality of breath. The most important factors are carbon dioxide, total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs), particulate matter (PM2.5), temperature and humidity; some of which can have adverse health effects.  

While carbon dioxide monitors are common, TVOCs are considered less often despite being a diverse group of toxic chemicals commonly found in cleaners, paint, upholstery and other everyday goods. An abundance of TVOCs can cause headaches, fatigue, skin reactions and other negative health effects. Similarly, the fine dust particles of PM2.5, which is prevalent in densely populated cities where production and power consumption is systematic, can permeate membranous tissue in the respiratory system where it can enter the vascular system and cause chronic irritation and aggravation of allergies and asthma.  

It’s in business leaders’ best interest to focus on air quality as it not only plays a large role in how people feel but also affects performance and productivity, decision making capabilities, and even how frequently someone calls out sick for work due to symptoms such as headaches, nausea and fatigue. However, before turning to an expensive new HVAC, air filtration or ventilation system, building managers must identify where improvements are most needed by first getting an accurate read on their current state of the air.  

Facility Managers Must Start Where They Are 

Monitoring air quality is critical to establishing a baseline for any indoor space. By examining trends in obvious factors like humidity, temperature and C02, in addition to the oftentimes overlooked factors such as TVOCs, PM2.5, light and noise, facility managers can make informed investments to improve air quality. The solution may be as simple as changing air filters and increasing ventilation by opening windows, or it could require a complete overhaul of the HVAC system. Without establishing an IAQ baseline it’s impossible to track the effectiveness of existing IAQ systems and identify the most cost-effective ways to achieving a healthier environment.  

Air quality monitoring is not a one-and-done reading, but rather, a tool to be referred to on an ongoing basis which enables a proactive approach to cleaner air. Consistent monitoring ensures facility managers can maintain a healthy IAQ but also gives occupants peace of mind knowing their safety and wellness are considered and appropriate steps are taken.  

Ensure Data Security 

Introducing any new technology into the infrastructure of an office, apartment, school or other building creates a risk for data to be compromised. As schools, offices and apartment complexes often house a wealth of personal, private and identifying data, its crucial any air monitoring devices purchased with funding from the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan8 and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law have enhanced security capabilities. Some features and assurances to look for include:  

  • SOC 2 Type 2, which stands for Service Organization Control, is an internal controls report that details how a piece of technology safeguards customer data  
  • Security penetration test, or “pentesting,” allows a cybersecurity expert to find vulnerabilities within the system and produces a report to mitigate security concerns before the product is released 

Conclusion 

Overall, the challenge from the EPA encourages building owners and facility managers to address the air quality concerns of occupants and brings greater awareness to the importance of indoor air quality, especially as it relates to the health and safety of all. While it may seem like an added expense, we know clean air improves productivity and has a positive effect on the bottom line. It’s been a rough couple of years for businesses and their employees—by democratizing clean air for all, regardless of where they spend time indoors, we can ensure everyone breathes a little easier.  

This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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