Throughout the global COVID-19 pandemic – and its many mutations – we all became more aware of the role and relevance of public health. The pandemic has been a lesson for many, helping us to better grapple with the realities of pathogens in our environment. This means, without proper ventilation and a greater focus on air quality, we could be exposed to potentially toxic and contagious pathogens that develop in flus and colds.
But as this grows in the public consciousness, businesses are increasingly under greater pressure to review and revise their health and safety policies and precaution to ensure that air quality remains an urgent priority.
Ventilation is a Matter of Health
COVID-19 has proven stubbornly contagious as it appears to return in several waves and different mutations. The continuous operation of offices across the country rely on creative health and safety measures to control the rate of infection, which has recently become the key priority for many business leaders.
The virus, according to research, is largely transmitted through droplets of water in the air we breathe. This has led to the UK government, backed by a medical practitioners, to advocate clear rules and regulations about securing an office against the harsh effects of the pandemic. The virus can be prevented when offices and other public spaces focus on ventilation and promote face masks.
With this information available, leaders across different businesses, schools, charities, and other public domains, have started to reconsider the indoor air quality. But when air quality was reviewed, it became clear that many buildings don’t have the optimal infrastructure to support clean air quality. In fact, many buildings weren’t even regulating air quality through proper, optimised ventilation systems.
With a large percentage of the UK workforce working remotely, or phasing back into the office once again, the return to traditional spaces of work might be troubled if offices don’t provide adequate ventilation. While businesses leaders may play their part in controlling the spread of the virus, are they doing everything in their power? Employees, clients, and regular building users will want to see how businesses commit themselves to creating safe, healthy environments – and a focus on air quality can help achieve this.
Why Focus on Air Quality?
COVID-19 has created anxieties about airborne illnesses, with many refocussing and rekindling a focus on their health and wellbeing. As airborne illnesses become an increasing risk in the air we breathe, the role and relevance of air quality becomes a greater issue. For so long, food and drink has been tightly regulated and inspected for quality, where air quality has been missed.
It’s important, when approaching air quality, to understand how the issue of ventilation doesn’t simply end with the pandemic either. Air quality is relevant all the time as pathogens, toxins, allergens, and more can expose people to different airborne illnesses, flus, and colds. In the wintertime, for example, different variations of flu can become airborne and highly contagious.
Yet, the quality of the air we breathe is more important than simply limiting our exposure to pathogens. Environmental pollution, it has been suggested, is responsible for 40,000 early deaths annually. It’s incorrectly assumed that environmental pollution describes only the fumes and other toxins emitted by traffic. In daily life, sources of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be found nearly everywhere, from perfumes, to cleaning supplies, and building materials. This is problematic because prolonged exposure to VOCs, along with other pollutants, can develop into longer term health issues, including visual and memory disorders and impairments. Worsening this scenario, and going beyond health impairments, poor air quality is what’s most often consistent with sick building syndrome. This describes where someone develops symptoms whilst using a particular building, such as an office. Significantly, mild symptoms (like headache and blurred vision) can escalate over time into more severe health conditions, even contributing to higher rates of absenteeism as a result for employees recording tiredness and other symptoms.
Air quality, which is often overlooked, is an opportunity to empower better health outcomes for a building’s occupants, encouraging them to interact with your office in a way that doesn’t evoke the scare or panic of airborne toxins. This is most effectively achieved through the careful planning and delivery of building maintenance programmes, such as facilities management cleaning.
Ventilation and air quality becomes a greater issue when its put into context; every person, for example, will ingest 11,000 litres of air daily. Despite this, its quality is rarely ever debated, not to mention air quality goes largely unregulated. Yet, the pandemic is establishing new rules about air quality – this is becoming a considerable area of focus for businesses.
A Building is Only as Healthy as its Air
As ventilation quickly become a spotlighted area of concern during the pandemic, many firms quickly reviewed their investments. During this time, the role and focus on ventilation systems and proper cleaning programmes has become a key interest amongst employers and employees alike – ensuring that a building can operate healthily. In fact, one recent announcement from the UK government even went as far as to declare how every classroom in England will receive air monitors.
Proving popular in many industries, initiatives of this kind are already being picked up by businesses who want to associate their office space with a healthy, cleaner setting, especially as an attraction for returning employees. This move – creating a better version of their workplace – has caused many to uptake programmes on offer from corporate office specialists. With professional help, a building can function at its healthiest, warding off airborne pathogens through the likes of deep, effective cleans and ventilation.
These operations may appear, at first, energy hungry and, therefore, costlier than how you had things setup previously. But proper ventilation doesn’t equate a greater cost. The likes of air sensors or CO2 monitors are cost-effective and can help judge the quality of ventilation practices. There are even more sophisticated ways of measuring the air in your office, including air pressure and estimated viral load.
Air Quality – What’s Next?
As targets for the future tighten, the UK is more committed to becoming a ‘greener’ country and one with a greater focus on lowering carbon emissions. This is even captured in the UK government’s ambitious targets to meet net zero by 2050. As this push intensifies, the UK and its many organisations will have to demonstrate how they contribute to a sustainable, healthy environment.