Indoor air pollution could be making you and your employees sick. Office buildings tend to be poorly ventilated. This can allow various pollutants and toxins to build up in the air, some of which could have serious long-term health effects.
This guide delves more into the types of pollutants to look out for and the various ways in which you can improve air quality within your office.
What can make office air unhealthy?
Office air can become contaminated by a variety of different things. Some of these pollutants include:
Indoor dust can be made up of a mixture of different substances. Some of it may just be dead skin cells, while some of it could be dust from exhaust fumes which has been brought indoors from outside through a door or window.
If there’s too much dust in the air, it can start to irritate the airways, causing us to cough and sneeze. Exposure to too much dust may also lead to asthma or bronchitis in the long run. Those with a dust mite allergy may also get itchy skin.
You can usually tell if there’s too much dust in the air. Thick layers of settled dust can also be a big problem – if dusturbed it can be thrown up into the air.
Mold is a fungus that likes to grow in warm, damp and dark conditions. It’s made up of tiny little spores – some of which end up being thrown into the air, where they can be breathed in.
Exposure to mold can cause irritation to eyes, mouth and nose, as well as nausea and itchy skin. In serious cases, it can get into the lungs and start to grow inside the body – this is known as aspergillosis and could cause breathing difficulties that progressively get worse if not treated.
If there are visible signs of mold on the walls, it’s usually a sign that the air is also polluted with mold spores.
Radon is an invisible and odorless gas that seeps up through the earth. It can get into buildings through cracks in the foundations and build up inside if there is no ventilation to help it escape.
Prolonged exposure to high levels of radon can lead to the development of lung cancer. This makes it a very dangerous gas to have in your office.
You can measure radon levels in your office using a radon test kit. Some areas of the world may have high levels of radon in the earth than others and can present more of a risk.
Asbestos is a material that was once heavily used in the construction of many buildings including offices.
When an asbestos structure is damaged, flecks of asbestos can be released into the air and breathed in. This is pretty much like breathing in glass dust – it can cause huge amounts of irritation to the lungs and airways and is the cause of a deadly lung disease known as mesothelioma.
Asbestos can take many forms making it hard to detect – it may look like regular cladding or be disguised within plaster. It’s best to hire experts to inspect your property for this material.
VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are a cocktail of toxins that can be produced by many chemical products including paints and cleaning solutions. They are also found in exhaust fumes.
Exposure to high levels of VOCs has been linked to the development of asthma and lung cancer. This has resulted in many chemical products changing their ingredients to reduce the amount of VOCs.
Photoionization detectors can tell you exactly how much VOCs are in the air. In an office, they will most likely be produced by cleaning products and paint.
How to improve air quality in your office
If the air in your office contains high levels of any of the pollutants listed above, it could be important to look into ways of cleaning the air. Below are just a few different ways in which you can improve the air quality in your office.
Eradicate pollutants at the source
Tackling the source of any pollutants can be one way to keep the air in your office clean. Below are a few examples of how to do this.
- Stop dust building up indoors by adopting a regular cleaning schedule: By running a wet cloth over surfaces and regularly vacuuming, you can stop dust collecting on surfaces and prevent it being kicked up into the air.
- Damp proof the building to prevent mold: Mold loves to grow in damp conditions. Tackling issues such as rising damp, plumbing leaks and rainwater leaks could stop mold appearing. You can click here to find damp proofing services that can do this for you.
- Seal up your building’s foundations against radon: By fixing cracks in your office building’s foundations, you could prevent radon from seeping into your office through the earth.
- Look into professional asbestos removal: If your office building contains asbestos, you can hire a professional company to remove it from the building.
- Use more chemical-free cleaning products to reduce exposure to VOCs: Organic cleaning products won’t contain these toxins, making them a safe bet.
Ventilate your office
If you can’t eliminate these pollutants at the source, the next best thing you can do is to improve ventilation within your office building. Opening windows is a simple solution, however not all offices have windows that can open. Many modern HVAC systems now provide ventilation, helping to circulate air in the office while pumping out dirty air and letting clean air in. Consider the age of your HVAC and whether it could benefit from being upgraded.
Consider using an air purifier
Air purifiers take in air and remove pollutants such as VOCs, mold, radon and dust, before pumping out clean air. They can also remove pollen from the air, which could reduce allergy symptoms for people with hayfever. Air purifiers can be built into HVAC systems. Alternatively, you can buy freestanding air purifier machines – either floor-standing or to put on your desk.
Introduce some plants
Plants are a natural source of oxygen. They also have air purifying and dehumidifying properties. By growing some plants in your office, you could help to keep the air clean. You can find a guide to the best office plants here.