Air quality at work: between public health, productivity and QWL


Can Indoor Air Quality and Quality of Life at Work be linked? Yes… if we start from the principle that air is life, while the consideration of health in the workplace is one of the components of QWL in companies.

Measuring CO2 levels and fine particles to anticipate, airing and ventilating, using an air purifier to destroy pollutants, the general optimisation of IAQ in offices, open plan offices and any individual or collective spaces are now major issues for companies. All the more so at a time of challenges linked to CSR transitions and recruitment issues.

IAQ, like workspace design and comfort, is part of QWL
IAQ, like workspace design and comfort, is part of QWL

With the end of generalized telework and the return to the office, after a long period of Covid-19, employees’ expectations have changed. The comfort of individual or shared workspaces was already a factor that was being taken into account before the pandemic.

They are now even more important, often including health reassurance, for any organisation committed – with conviction – to the well-being of its employees and, by extension, to its employer brand.

Driven by a fundamental movement around Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), whose five pillars combine social and environmental issues, the integration of Quality of Life at Work in such a process depends first of all on the ability of each structure to adopt the approach according to its specificities.

This is done around three main entries that set the framework:

  • Employment and working conditions, including health, integrating occupational risks and the quality of prevention
  • Capacity for expression and action
  • Content of the work

As NatéoSanté states in its white paper on indoor air quality in businesses, air, “this invisible element, is now looming over reception and company health“. A few figures to support the link with a QWL approach :

  • A human being spends between 80 and 90% of their time indoors
  • Indoor air is 8 times more polluted than outdoor air
  • The indoor air breathed in an open plan office is 10 to 20 times more polluted than the air outside (Purdue University – 2019)

These values should be considered in the light of the vital nature of air, even before water, when a person breathes an average of 15,000 litres per day!

Measuring indoor air quality and the link to cognitive performance

The effects of poor air quality at work have been the subject of several studies. One of the most recent was published in September 2021 by the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health.

It highlights the effects of polluted indoor air on cognitive performance.

The research work lasted one year, involving the follow-up of more than 300 people, aged 18 to 65, in 6 countries and 40 office buildings, with an on-site presence at least three days a week.

Studies show link between indoor air quality and cognitive performance
Studies show link between indoor air quality and cognitive performance

Each participant was thus working in a daily environment with real-time control of the levels of:

  • Fine particles PM2.5 and PM10
  • CO2
  • Temperature
  • Humidity

If PM2.5 and CO2 levels exceeded a predetermined threshold, the “subject” had to take two cognitive tests from a dedicated mobile application.

The results show that increases in PM2.5 levels were associated with acute reductions in cognitive function“, summarised Jose Guillermo Cedeño Laurent, the lead author of the work.

This is the first time we have observed these short-term effects in young adults. The study also confirmed the negative impact of low ventilation rates on cognitive function. Overall, the study suggests that poor IAQ affects health and productivity much more than we previously understood.

IAQ monitoring, aeration, ventilation and professional air purifier for a complete package

According to the latest 2022 Brand Engagement Barometer (season 3), carried out by Cision, “89% of the commitments chosen and made by companies concern internal ecological practices and… 70% employee well-being“. This makes it the number one lever.

How to improve the quality of life at work? As far as health is concerned, in the normal context of activities without specific pollution, which is the rule for many classic service activities, a deteriorated indoor air quality is a recognised source of headaches or migraines, possible eye irritations, sneezing (and much more discomfort for allergy sufferers during the pollen season) and fatigue.

Poor indoor air quality leads to concentration problems, headaches, fatigue, etc.
Poor indoor air quality leads to concentration problems, headaches, fatigue, etc.

The installation of an indoor air quality detector is a first step to monitor the level of CO2 (indicator of confinement during the Covid-19 period), fine particles… The article “Work spaces: why improve indoor air quality?” from NatéoSanté, reminds us of the regulations, the accepted thresholds as well as the main pollutants identified, including Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which can be emitted by building construction materials, furnishings, supplies, printer inks…

The ability to make information visible to staff should be considered: whether it is a LED display or, for example, the automated sending of an alert by collaborative messaging when an alert level such as 800 ppm CO2 is exceeded.

Moreover, the use of open data makes it possible to anticipate (such as an outdoor fine particle pollution scenario depending on sunshine, wind, etc.) by cross-referencing current data with past data.

The second step is as follows:

  • Aerate to renew the air, if the room allows it (windows)
  • Mechanical ventilation (single or double flow) to reduce the CO2 concentration and the humidity level, dilute the pollutants… but they will not be annihilated!

With the addition of a HEPA air purifier in the third stage, the system is complete: pollutants are captured, filtered and destroyed to ensure healthy air for the occupants. Here again, the sharing of data can be essential to maintain the general reassurance that the health aspect is now anchored in each of us.

A professional air purifier will remove various pollutants from the indoor air
A professional air purifier will remove various pollutants from the indoor air

Ensuring good Indoor Air Quality among the Quality of Life at Work issues

Assuming therefore that IAQ improvement solutions have an immediate effect on QWL, the use of Made in France, eco-designed and safe professional air purifiers, such as those developed and produced by NatéoSanté, will also reinforce the meaning and impact for the employer towards its stakeholders.

Beyond individual performance, which is a source of collective performance (preservation of health, concentration, etc.), in the context of a labour market that is sometimes tense, depending on the profession – such as technology – the implementation of a global process for optimising air quality at work will strengthen employee loyalty. A win-win situation!

Related articles

All articles about IAQ in professional environments