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Corporate Citizenship


Good businesses ensure that workers are happy and healthy – productivity depends on it. Low satisfaction, medical complaints and absenteeism affect employee performance and reduce output. Where legislation exists protecting workers’ health and well-being (as it does in much of the world), it should be viewed not as a minimum legal requirement but as a means to securing the future success and growth of the company. Good corporate citizenship helps businesses to maximize the value of their workforce and make more efficient use of resources.

One parameter that is often overlooked is the impact of air quality on worker experience. Given that most workers’ daily lives are spent in a single location, this is certainly not something that should be ignored. Factories, warehouses, office blocks and shops are all susceptible to airborne nasties – either as a by-product of day-to-day business activity or as a consequence of a building’s infrastructure or location. If neglected, this can have a deleterious effect on the workforce. A meta-analysis by the Guardian newspaper found that poor air quality lowered performance by up to 10% on measures such as typing speed. Ventilated work spaces were found to have 35% fewer instances of sick leave [1].

Fortunately, simple steps can be taken to mitigate the problem. Below are a small selection of tips and suggestions:

  • Every workspace must be well-ventilated to allow the change and circulation of fresh air. If this is not possible, consider installing an air purification system.
  • The temperature and humidity should be closely monitored to prevent the spread bacteria and spores.
  • Floors and surfaces should be kept clean and dust-free. Use only non-toxic cleaning agents.
  • Machinery should be kept clean and up-to-date. This includes printers and photocopiers, as these give off ozone, an odourless gas known to cause headaches, skin irritation and breathing difficulties.
  • Include plants in your workspace. These help absorb VOCs.

Given the size and ubiquity of airborne particles, there is no sure-fire way of controlling what we breathe in. However, regular monitoring will help identify risk zones and enable the implementation of relief measures.

By monitoring  air quality and other related parameters in-house, not only will businesses save money, it will allow them to develop responsibly and create new metrics to measure change and progress.

[1] ‘Office buildings are key to workers’ health, wellbeing and productivity’, Guardian (24 September 2014)

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Indoor Air Quality

Man with Gas Mask

Air quality is a significant concern for homes and businesses alike. The technological and material demands of modern life mean that more and more pollutants are being released into the atmosphere. Unknowingly we breathe in a host of noxious particulates and trace gases, many of which can adversely affect our health. Though shielded from vehicular and industrial emissions, indoor air fares no better in the air quality stakes. Much of what we breathe is recycled from the outside and then combined with indoor contaminants such as dust, mould, asbestos and vapour from cosmetics and cleaning products. Poor ventilation and faulty heating systems cause a build-up of undiluted air, thereby increasing the chance of exposure to harmful pollutants.

Air quality hazards

Although some are at greater risk than others (those who work in the manufacturing, construction or cleaning industries to name a few), no one is completely safe from the hazards of indoor air. Seemingly unaccountable instances of ill health (headaches, dizziness, nausea, poor concentration, allergic reactions etc.) are not uncommon in the workplace and may in fact be related to indoor air quality. Tobacco smoke, perfume and other VOCs from new furnishings and electrics combine with ozone to produce unpleasant smells, skin irritation and even breathing difficulties. Although symptoms vary from person to person, both in type and severity, they are grouped together under the term Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). SBS is a wide-ranging yet poorly understood phenomenon with major implications not only for individual health but also productivity and wellbeing in the workplace. Characterized by a series of subjective health complaints, and therefore undiagnosable in strict medical terms, SBS has, by some, been seen as a product of (post)modern health-and-safety hysteria (‘a diversity of ill health effects, mostly minor and associated with a building, for which [there is] no specific cause’). And yet it is precisely this lack of specificity that makes it such an interesting, research-worthy phenomenon. Michelle Murphy, author of Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty, conjectures that certain ‘power regimes’ (here she cites chemical corporations, tobacco companies, manufacturers and even some government organisations) are in fact capable of manipulating air sampling data in such a way that befits their anti-regulation agenda. Whether this is true or just another conspiracy theory exceeds the scope of this post, but it certainly makes for interesting debate!

SBS management strategy

Whilst the problem of uncertainty grows, it seems wholly appropriate that some sort of SBS management strategy be implemented, particularly in areas where issues of productivity are at stake. Of course, the fact that no two buildings are exactly alike makes this exceedingly difficult, as there can be no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. It is therefore imperative that high-risk indoor spaces be individually assessed to investigate further the causes of SBS. Air sampling seems like a sensible place to start.

Indoor Air Quality