Winter is a time we often put air quality on the backburner because allergy season is no longer in full-force. However, winter is just as important a season to think about air quality as any. Studies show that people spend about 90% of their time indoors, and for most people (excluding those of you lucky enough to live down south), even more time is spent indoors during the winter. This makes for a sniffly situation because, more often than not, pollutant levels inside are higher than they are outside. Don’t keep your occupants in uncomfortable situations – reduce their discomfort and improve their performance by controlling your air quality!
Why should I be concerned with indoor air quality?
Poor air quality can have some unfortunate consequences on your work environment, including the health problems occupants face and decreased staff performance. Let’s take a deeper look!
Pollutants increase the risk of illness.
Many studies performed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have continuously listed air pollution as one of the major environmental health problems. These problems can range from short-term effects, like sneezing and coughing, to long-term effects, like respiratory disease. While severe health effects are rare, many people feel the effects of poor air quality with symptoms such as watery eyes, fatigue, dizziness, and headaches. Most of these symptoms can be mistaken for symptoms of other illnesses, so how do you determine the source? If these symptoms seem to go away when you leave the building, chances are you are experiencing symptoms from poor indoor air quality. This means it’s time to take action!
Employees perform better in facilities where the air quality is regulated.
Recently, Harvard performed a study to measure human performance in both a “Green” building and “Conventional” building, and the results speak for themselves. Cognitive scores were 61% higher when participants were working in a “green” environment, or a building with great air quality, as opposed to the environment most of us encounter everyday while indoors.
Sources of indoor air pollution
There are a variety of ways the air in your facilities can become polluted, including but not limited to:
- Allergens (pollen) that make their way into your facility
- Irritants (dust mites, mold spores, chemicals from cleaning products)
- Mold caused by moisture and humidity
- Concentrations of bacteria, viruses and fungi due to water spills, inadequate humidity control, or condensation
- And dust mites and animal dander brought in by occupants, infiltration, or ventilation air
All of these irritants have the possibility to provoke your occupants’ allergies and make them uncomfortable. So, it’s important to address each one and ensure proper steps are being taken to reduce the likelihood of them affecting your air quality.
How to reduce indoor air pollutants
Now it’s time for the big question: How exactly do you improve your facility’s air quality?
The best place to start is by reducing indoor air pollutants. On top of establishing a smoking policy, changing HVAC filters frequently and avoiding products that give off odors or pollutants, here are some ideas to help you reduce pollutants in your facilities.
Follow proper trash disposal procedures
We all know how stinky the trash can get! And these odors most definitely affect air quality. So, make sure you are disposing of your trash frequently and properly. Ensure trash bins are covered, the area is sanitized daily, and that you are working to prevent bugs and other pests from accumulating in the area.
Schedule maintenance activities when the building is unoccupied
Sometimes performing maintenance activities on your facilities can affect your occupants. Certain activities, such as painting and performing work on HVAC systems, emit odors and other pollutants that can affect air quality and increase irritants. When possible, schedule these types of activities when no one is in the building. For example, if you are the facilities manager for schools, winter vacation is a great time to schedule maintenance work because the schools will be empty.
It’s always a good idea to be courteous as well, so inform occupants when maintenance is scheduled and let them know how it may affect the air.
Inspect HVAC equipment regularly
It’s very important to regularly inspect your HVAC equipment to not only ensure it is working properly, but to check for mold. Mold loves to grow in wet conditions, and because HVAC systems are exposed to water and moisture regularly, they are the perfect breeding grounds. Make sure you double and triple check components exposed to water, such as drainage pans, coils, cooling towers, and humidifiers as these are most likely to house mold. If your facilities have a mold problem, check out these tips from the EPA about how to handle it.
How FMX can help: In FMX, you can schedule preventive maintenance tasks to occur at any frequency you want (daily, monthly, weekly, every 8 days, etc.) for each piece of equipment. When setting up these preventive tasks you can create step-by-step instructions that the assignee must check off before they can close out the task. For example, you can list all parts of the HVAC that are exposed to water and make sure each is thoroughly reviewed. You can even set up your FMX site so that occupants and staff can view when certain planned maintenance tasks will be occurring on their FMX calendar.
Alayna is the marketing communications specialist at Facilities Management eXpress. When she’s not drafting up content for the blog or social media, she is most likely reading a good book or taking short weekend trips!