Sick building syndrome
Sick building syndrome has been known about since the 1970s, although the phrase was not coined until 1986 by the World Health Organisation. They estimated that up to 1/3 of new buildings were affected by poor air quality. This “syndrome” is held responsible for symptoms that have no other explanation and that are often quite vague. They may include nausea, headaches, irritation in the throat or eyes, and fatigue. The possibility of a building being affected clearly has serious implications for the health of people working in the office, and for the company or department housed in it.
In the office
People spend a considerable part of their lives in the office, meaning they are exposed to any pollutants throughout the day. Many don’t even have the chance to go outside during their lunch break, meaning they get absolutely no fresh air for several hours. In fact, it’s likely that the air outside isn’t even that fresh! At any rate, you could end up spending as many as 2,000 hours in your workplace every year. The larger the office, the more people there are to be affected by any impurities or harmful chemicals in the air.
An employer’s obligation
Employers have a duty of care to their staff, and should take every step possible to provide them with a comfortable and safe working environment. That includes the air they are breathing. Most modern office buildings do not have windows that open. Even if they did, it would also expose people to pollution from outside, given that most office buildings are in built-up areas, or cities with cars and other vehicles giving out harmful fumes. What is the solution to this problem? Install an air purifier.
How an office will benefit from installing an air purifier
- Reduction in sick days. Poor air in the office could mean that staff get sick more easily. It’s easy for germs to circulate, especially if you have air conditioning, which does nothing to improve the quality of the air. Low air quality is also harmful for anyone with a chronic condition such as allergies or asthma; they may have to take more days off ill, or take longer to recover from attacks.
- Economic benefits. When staff cannot come into work, the firm then has to find someone to replace them, often calling in an expensive temporary worker. It is therefore in a business’s interests to cut down the number of sick days that staff have to take; improving air quality will go a long way towards that.
- Improve staff morale. Being stuck in an office can be unpleasant and stuffy. Staff will definitely notice the difference if the air quality is improved. They will be less likely to experience minor health problems such as headaches. This will make them feel better both physically and psychologically.
- More efficiency. Not only will your employees need to take fewer days off sick, but when they are in the office they will be more productive. People cannot possibly work at their best if they aren’t feeling 100%. Allergies to pollen are quite common, and although most sufferers won’t need to take time off because of it, it will still affect their work. Who can do their best work when they’re constantly sneezing and feeling wheezy?
So installing an air purifier will pay off in many ways. This will clearly not be a cheap option, but in the long term is a sensible one. The money paid out on a purifier will soon be recouped in the form of reduced need for sick pay.
Many firms lease offices rather than own a building, meaning that they are unable to make structural changes to the building. They will therefore most likely have to rule out installing an air purifier throughout the building, which could in any case be prohibitively costly in larger premises. The most practical option is likely to be placing an independent unit in each office. This will involve the need to measure each room carefully, as it is important to choose a unit that is large enough to handle the space. In fact, you are advised to choose one that is able to cover a slightly larger space, so that it will be able to work most efficiently.
Bear in mind that air purifiers need to be maintained if they are to work properly. Filters will usually need to be replaced every few months, except in the case of HEPA filters. These last between 2-4 years, and can be vacuumed out to keep them clean. Either option needs regular maintenance, so you will need to call in someone to do this if you don’t have your own maintenance department.
Getting the most out of your purifier
Once you purchase an air purifier for your office, you need to choose the right location for it. This can be difficult in an office that may be crowded with furniture and even the goods that the company manufactures. It’s important to familiarise yourself with your particular model before you use it. Some purifiers will not work efficiently if they are placed against the wall, as the air is unable to circulate properly, whereas others are designed for this location. You should also ensure that windows are kept closed, so that the unit can function most efficiently. If it is obliged to deal with pollutants coming in from outside, it will have to work harder and be unable to clean the air indoors most efficiently.
The room should also be cleaned regularly. If dust is allowed to build up, the machine has to work harder. Get a cleaner to take care of the dust, and the purifier can undertake the task that it’s designed for – keeping the air clean.