A Breath of Fresh (Office) Air Doubles Brain Function
Experts have shown that improving your office air quality will increase brain function, reduce multiple workplace health problems and boost productivity.
Imagine there was a treatment that would double your cognitive ability with no adverse side effects. Not only that, it could also reduce a whole range of health problems and make you more productive. Something so effective should be added to the water supply or pumped into the air we breathe. In fact, this magic bullet IS the air that we breathe. Not the stuffy, dirty, stale air in your office, but beautiful fresh, clean air.
Stuck IndoorsLike many office based workers, you probably work in an environment with no opening windows. Today’s buildings are increasingly being designed with sealed windows in an effort to conserve energy. The downside to this is that they also effectively trap the air inside them and are dependent on air conditioning systems for their ventilation. With so many people now stuck indoors like this for long periods of time, a 2015 Harvard University report identified that "the indoor built environment plays a critical role in our overall wellbeing", and an Australian study demonstrated a strong link between the frequency of illnesses and time spent in unhealthy indoor environments, of which they suspect to be "half of the office buildings in Australia.
Health HazardPoor indoor air quality has been identified as causing a whole range of workplace health problems which lead to lost productivity and sick days. You may have experienced ailments such as headaches, itchy eyes, fatigue, dizziness, coughing, sneezing, or even nose bleeds, a sore throat, nausea or wheezing. Often the symptoms improve soon after leaving the building, making their origin obvious.
Three’s a CrowdThere are three primary factors contributing to your office air quality: cleanliness, odour and temperature.
1. CleanlinessAccording to the Harvard research mentioned above, breathing contaminated air at work slows your brain and affects your performance. The study investigated the effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and found that "green+" concentrations of CO2 (550ppm) resulted in a 101% better result on cognitive tests. This means that in an environment with fresh air your brain is better at using information, responding to a crisis and strategising.
CO2 is not the only harmful contaminant in the office air we breathe. Ozone, "emitted in small amounts by photocopiers, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead and particles, along with CO2, are the six key air pollutants we’re exposed to in Australia. Our National Environment Protection Measure for Ambient Air Quality (the Air NEPM), sets standards for these, "providing all Australians with the same level of air quality protection. The air we breathe is so important that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declares that "access to acceptable quality air is a fundamental human right.
You can effortlessly improve the cleanliness of the air in your workplace by adding a Fellowes AeraMax air purifier. Or put some plants in planter boxes along the top of your storage cabinets and they’ll help clean the air as well as brighten up the office.
2. OdourPersistent bad smells in the office can be off-putting and disruptive, with "some odours shown to impair working memory and affect mood. A Danish report from 2005 concluded that "even unrecognisable levels of odours can cause annoyance and mental distraction, which may "alter the work performance at indoor air conditions". The sources of these smells could be poor waste management, mould, fumes given off by machinery or furnishings, or personal hygiene. Each may need to be addressed at its source but can also be improved by air freshners and an air purifier.
3. TemperatureThe most common complaint about indoor air is its temperature. The Australian Standard AS 1837-1976 recommends "temperatures should be kept to 21-24°C in summer and 19-22°C in winter. Other than just the pure discomfort, temperatures that are too high or too low can cause fatigue, heat exhaustion, reduced immunity and headaches. Since everyone in your workplace will have a different preference and sensitivity to temperature, finding a one-size-fits-all approach will be near impossible. You can take charge of your own comfort with a personal fan or heater, or perhaps a heated footrest.
ConclusionWay back in 1998 the CSIRO estimated that "poor indoor air quality cost Australia as much as $12 billion per year". However there is more than a dollar cost to the quality of our office air, it could also be impairing our ability to do our job to the best of our ability as well as making us sick.
We all have a right to be comfortable and safe at work. For those of us who spend a large chunk of our day indoors, our office air quality plays a vital role in our overall workplace health and wellbeing. Working in a clean air environment helps us to perform better and stay healthier, increasing our productivity. Where you work has a duty of care to maintain the cleanliness, odour and temperature, using both office-wide and personal solutions. This can be achieved by filtering the office air with an air purifier, limiting particle production from devices like shredders, deoderising the office and offering personal heating and cooling solutions.
You won’t just breathe easier thanks to these measures, you’ll think and feel better, too.