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How Companies Can Make Workplaces Safer

How Companies Can Make Workplaces Safer: Air Quality Matters

By Erica Buehler

Undeniably, the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way companies and employees determine what a healthy work environment looks like. Remote working is very much here to stay for many companies who have the means to do so and who recognize that environment plays a crucial role in employee productivity. 

But in addition to reevaluating the structure of the workplace, the idea of health and safety has never been more at the forefront of companies’ (and employees’) minds than it is now. Not only are many of us hyper-aware of common surfaces, shared spaces, and germs, but we’re also constantly thinking about what makes a workplace healthy. That concept can mean a number of things to different people, but sanitation is definitely one of the top factors that constitute a healthy and safe work environment—and air quality is no exception.

Air Quality is an Essential Part of Health and Safety

Many folks are now well-versed in frequent and proper handwashing, readily available sanitizers, maintaining appropriate distances from others, and being wary of commonly used or touched surfaces (doorknobs, sink handles, computers, etc). But more and more people are discovering that air quality is just as important as wiping down surfaces or covering up coughs and sneezes. Poor ventilation not only circulates potentially harmful air—containing germs or hazardous particulate matter—but is also shown to have a negative effect on concentration and productivity.

According to the CDC, poor air quality or particle pollution can cause serious, negative health effects—especially for people who are more at risk than others. People with heart or lung diseases, older people, or very young children are most at risk for negative health effects due to poor air quality. Particle pollution (as a result of poorly ventilated spaces or non-purified air) can lead to symptoms like eye, lung, and throat irritation, difficulty breathing, and even lung cancer or birth defects. The CDC also reports that there are several air pollutants that can be harmful to health and safety when air is not properly ventilated or purified.

Good Air Quality = Higher Productivity

Most of us are aware of the benefits of a workplace that has natural light, comfortable seating, and puts some effort into its aesthetic for its employees. Air quality should also be included in the thought process behind creating a healthy and enjoyable work environment.

Forbes discusses the importance of natural light and air quality as going hand-in-hand for healthy work environments and ultimately better employee productivity and elevated moods. Biz Journals also published an article using information from assistant professor and director of the Healthy Buildings program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Joseph G. Allen, that emphasizes the importance of office air quality and how it affects employee productivity.

Several studies and research have been conducted on defining the relationship between air quality and productivity.  A 2012 study by researchers at The University of Reading School of Construction Management and Engineering, Monodraught Ltd, and The University of Reading in the United Kingdom, shows that low ventilation in classrooms has a significant negative impact on students’ attention, vigilance, memory, and concentration (via Academia). The same, of course, is true for employees and work.

One good thing is knowing that because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many companies are realizing the correlation between air quality and productivity and are working to improve it in their respective workplaces. Alongside the concepts of flexible hours and remote work opportunities, special wellness benefits and programs, and thoughtful workplace design, air quality is making its way to the top of every company’s list for what makes a work environment safe, healthy, and enjoyable. CNBC reports that beginning even with building developers, companies are putting a greater focus on air quality and good ventilation.