Time to clear the air...

Time to clear the air...

We spend 90% of our time indoors, yet indoor environmental quality and its impact on health and productivity are often an afterthought. Research shows that the levels of pollution inside offices, homes, schools and other closed settings are often higher than the outdoors. In fact, the air outside is much safer to breathe than the indoors, where air does not get circulated as frequently.

Sick building syndrome

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sick building syndrome is a situation in which the building occupant experiences acute health effects that appears to be linked to the time spent in the building but has no specific illness or cause that can be identified. Occupants normally complain about the dryness in the throat, cough, irritation in the eye, nose, dry or itchy skin, nausea, lack of concentration, headache etc. This syndrome is primarily triggered by indoor air pollution, which is caused due to recirculation of the air.

Secondly, many people in offices believe that air conditioners purify air. This is not true. In fact, breathing in an air-conditioned room can be more dangerous since it only recirculates the same air. Constant exposure to air conditioning dries out the mucus membranes, causing sore throat and sneezing, and makes us more susceptible to colds and upper respiratory tract infections. That is why when a colleague has flu, it is very likely that the others sitting quite far away are also likely to catch it.

This is where an air purifier comes into the picture, which is not only useful to allergy sufferers and asthma patients, but is also beneficial as an alternative product for reducing the effect of second-hand smoke. Unlike air conditioners that only have a three-stage filtration system, an air purifier with a high efficiency particulate air filtration (HEPA) filter can trap small particles and pollutants such as moulds, smoke, house dust and pet dander. This can benefit overall health as these pollutants cause asthma as well as eye, nose and throat irritation that can lead to respiratory infections among vulnerable people.

Affecting productivity

Among all the factors that can affect your performance at workplace, air quality is one of the most important element, often ignored and neglected by many.

l Constant fatigue: Lack of good ventilation can lead to a feeling of tiredness throughout the day. This will not only affect your motivation, but also lead to a great dip in your productivity.

l Concentration: Stale and unpleasant odours can make you feel stuffy and uncomfortable, and prolonged exposure to them can cause headaches and fatigue, altering your concentration, and thus affecting your efficiency and output l Mood: While a lot of things can determine your mood in office, good airflow and good air quality can help in uplifting your spirits and making you look forward to your time in office. In fact, research reveals that indoor air quality can have a profound impact on ability to think, take decisions, understand and remember.

l Absenteeism: Poor air quality can potentially result in health problems including respiratory issues, headaches and sinus infections. These problems can in turn affect employees’ turnout and attendance at the office.

The EPA states that removing the sources of indoor air pollution and increasing ventilation are the most effective ways to lower exposure to pollutants. Some of the other ways in which you can deal with it are:

Let in fresh air. Open windows so that toxic chemicals don’t build up.
Ensure there are enough indoor plants in your office. Putting fresh plants around the workplace, or even on your personal desk, can drastically improve your mood.
Get rid of garbage to prevent odours and biological contamination.
Keep areas clean to avoid attracting pests.
Avoid smoking indoors and comply with company’s policies and norms.
It is also suggested that air purifiers in several rooms or a central air filter may be extremely beneficial to improve the indoor air quality.
Indoor air pollution is a silent but gradual killer. So, while you may continue to enjoy the chilled air in your office spaces, don’t let the poor air quality dampen your spirits.

(The author is chief scientific officer, Eureka Forbes)

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