Hidden air pollution in workplaces “continues to impact health and well-being of employees”

With indoor air pollution continuing to impact the health and well-being of UK workers, Siemens Building Technologies reports that employers are now beginning to assume greater responsibility for the workplace environment in a bid to limit the effects of sick building syndrome (ie situations where employees or other building occupants experience acute health and discomfort levels that appear to be linked to the time spent in a building).

A YouGov survey commissioned by the Building Engineering Services Association reports that almost 70% of office workers believed poor air quality in their place of work was having a negative effect on their day-to-day productivity and well-being.

“The health impacts of poor outdoor air quality are well-documented and have been linked to respiratory tract infections, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” explained Steven Loughney of Siemens Building Technologies. “Indoors, you’ll find these same pollutants intermingled with dust, carpet fibres, fungal spores, cleaning products, photocopy residues or building materials which create quite an unhealthy cocktail of contaminants that eventually permeate across the workplace. With most of us spending 90% or more of our time indoors, it’s little wonder that some people claim work is literally killing them. That might not be the case, but indoor air pollution is certainly having a detrimental effect on our long-term health.”

Myriad building-related factors such as room temperature, light and noise, humidity, CO2, chemical contaminants (volatile organic compounds – VOCs), air quality and naturally occurring poisons can inflame symptoms for many sufferers requiring more precise controls over environmental factors in the workplace.

“Businesses have been showing interest in all kinds of solutions to help improve the working environment including physical redesigns, retrofit options for older buildings or total room automation technology solutions,” continued Loughney.

Air quality improvements can be made through the deployment of advanced HEPA and carbon-activated air purifiers to screen harmful pollutants, while air quality monitors sensitive to PM2.5 warn of foreign particles <2.5 micrometres Ø that are small enough to travel deep into the lungs.

Physical redesigns of structures

Physical redesigns of buildings might involve adding ventilation to take advantage of prevalent winds or creating windows to exploit aspects that take advantage of natural light. Converted older buildings may have issues with heating, ventilation and air conditioning with access and power limitations.

For complete internal environmental control, total room automation solutions offer a fully-integrated system that maintains the perfect environment. A network of high accuracy, self-calibrating sensors feed real-time information back into these systems to manage HVAC, lighting and CO2 levels.

“Sometimes it can be very difficult to diagnose the exact cause or combination of elements that’s making people feel ill, but we think it’s right that both employers and employees have been asking questions about the buildings they work in and to what degree they might be affecting their health and well-being,” concluded Loughney.

Symptoms of sick building syndrome may include headaches, blocked or runny nose, dry and itchy skin, dry and sore eyes, rashes and/or tiredness and difficulty concentrating.

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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