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Indoor Air Quality in the Workplace

Indoor air pollution is perhaps one of the most underrated health concerns in commercial and institutional buildings and it is not hard to see why. Outdoor air, when heavily polluted, can be easily noticed (dark smoke, toxic smell, and bitter taste). However, indoor air is different. It hides behind the cool and comforting air blown by the AC and the calming smell of air fresheners which we normally prefer in the workplace.

Indoor versus Outdoor Pollution

In theory, outdoor air is less hazardous compared to indoor air in our workplace as bacteria thrive in cold environment, which most of us prefer to stay.
Employees have fallen sick in buildings ranging from libraries and hospitals to offices, and some of them say is caused by “poor indoor air”. Complaints are especially common in newer, energy-efficient buildings where windows are sealed shut and fresh air is scarce.

Common Indoor Air Pollutants 

1. Carbon Monoxide
2. Radon (Odorless and Colorless gas)
3. Nitrogen Dioxide
4. Secondhand Smoke
5. Lead Particles
6. Asbestos
7. Molds

These air pollutants can cause several illnesses ranging from the most common, like headaches, nausea, dizziness, irritability and itchy eyes, up to diseases that may require diagnosis such as pontiac fever, marked by fever, flu, colds, or even cancer.
In high-rise buildings, you may breathe in carbon monoxide came from the fresh-air vents, other appliances such as printers and copy machines may emit ozone, that is proven dangerous when combined to other chemicals present in the workplace, while air-conditioning systems may cause infections by bacterial organism build up if not maintained.

Common Solutions

The most common intervention is better ventilation -- both the amount of fresh air allowed to enter and the volume that's being circulated.
However, for more common solutions that employees can do here are they: 

1. Don't block air vents or grilles.
2. If you must smoke, do it outside and far away from the fresh air intake ducts.
3. Take care of your office plants -- dusty, dying plants don't do anything for the air quality in your office, and over-watered plants can develop mold.
4. Get rid of garbage promptly to prevent odors and biological contamination.
5. Store food properly. Keep perishable food in the refrigerator and clean the refrigerator out frequently to prevent odors and mold. 
6. Keep eating areas clean to avoid attracting pests. 

In most recent years where design is associated with sustainable approach, as a design criterion has been considered as part of the sustainable design approach, such as;
1. Lighting (Natural Lighting)
2. Passive Ventilation
3. Changing of refrigerants on Air-Conditioning

Improving your workplace indoor quality

1. Keep your workplace clean
A clean workplace has lower levels of mold, dust, allergens, and contaminants that could spread through the air. Consider using eco-friendly cleaning products with no harsh chemical compounds.. 
2. Use air-cleaning devices
Having air scrubbers, dehumidifiers, and air purifiers are a great way to keep your indoor air quality at good levels.
3. Change HVAC filters regularly
Be sure to change the filters from time to time to prevent dust and other air pollutants from circulating back to your workplace. Clogged filters can interrupt airflow and speed up the build-up of pollutants.
4. Observe proper ventilation
Be sure to keep air vents unblocked. Avoid placing furniture, storage boxes, chairs, or cabinets in front of you air vents as it will disrupt air circulation, causing your workplace to feel stuffy. 
Indoor plants are also a great addition to your office.
5. Conduct regular air tests
Performing an indoor air testing will provide you with the right information and insights to make your indoor air quality improvement plan more directed and efficient. Air quality tests include checking humidity levels, airflow, ventilation, mold growth, odors, and water damage.

Colliers View

There is also a common approach on building maintenance to ensure that indoor air quality is maintained at (0-bacteria) level. There are specialty contractors dealing with Indoor Air should be consulted to ensure workplace is sustainable for the employees.

Breathing quality indoor air is critical for good health. Most professionals spend a significant amount of time indoors—either in the home, office or other types of buildings—where gases, chemicals and other pollutants can cause headaches, eye irritation, allergies and fatigue. 

Serious pollutants can cause certain types of cancers and other long-term health complications. Clean air through an in-house fresh air system can prevent many environmental health hazards such as asthma.

Indoor air quality continues to be a critical concern that requires immediate action from landlords and tenants alike to reduce pollutants, toxins and allergens and greatly improve your indoor air quality.

 

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Roldan Buitizon

Director

Project Management

Manila

Dan has 16 years of work experience in the design and construction industry. He started his career in design as an Interior Designer for Sonia S. Olivares and Associates before moving forward as a Design Manager for Anchorland Holdings Inc. He has spent the last 8 years with Arcadis Philippines Inc. (formerly Langdon & Seah Philippines Inc.) building a career in Project and Construction Management specializing in managing fit-out projects (retail, office, hospitality and institutional) for the country’s top tier Clients and Developers. He was also the PMO Country Lead for the HSBC accounts. In 2018, onset to a high rate success of project deliveries in his track record, he was promoted as Associate Director of the Project and Programme Management of Arcadis prior to a career move to Colliers.

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