How a sick building affects well-being
An unhealthy building harms employee well-being in various ways as a result of poor indoor air quality, contaminants, noise levels, poor lighting and inadequate ventilation. These conditions – if not monitored and controlled – can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular illness, anxiety, depression, discomfort and decreased job satisfaction. The World Health Organisation estimates that indoor air pollution causes 11 per cent of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) deaths worldwide.
Well-being issues in unhealthy buildings include:
• Exposure to indoor air pollution: Leading to respiratory damage and pulmonary impairment
• Building materials with chemical toxicants: Harming respiratory, endocrine and neurological systems
• Insufficient or improper lighting: Causing discomfort, diminished job performance and lower job satisfaction
• Poor ventilation: Leading to short-term illness (coughing, sneezing, fatigue) and serious health problems (lung cancer, asthma, allergies)
When seeking to improve well-being, building developers, owners and city leaders should be concerned with more than just new buildings. Because an estimated 70 per cent of buildings that will be in use in 2050 have already been built, concentrating on new construction projects will have only marginal effects on improving well-being. Therefore, renovation of existing buildings offers significant opportunities.
Prescriptions for smarter, healthier buildings
Thanks to a scientific knowledge base, organisations are more aware of the relationship between the indoor work environment and employee health. Two areas where smart building stakeholders can take action to enhance well-being are monitoring and controlling the indoor environment to reduce health risks and designing the workspace to make it more conducive to job performance and employee comfort.
Monitoring and controlling the indoor environment
Research confirms that indoor air quality (IAQ) affects the well-being of building occupants and that poor IAQ is linked to lower productivity levels and sick building syndrome – a medical condition where people suffer from illness symptoms for no identifiable reason. The World Health Organisation believes that improving IAQ is one of the most important actions society can take in the building industry.
Unhealthy conditions cause unhealthy indoor air
Many unhealthy conditions in buildings contribute to poor air quality. Consider three of the main culprits:
• Carbon dioxide (CO2)
• Volatile organic compounds
• Particulate matter A high level of CO2 is correlated with sick building syndrome and its impact on employee health.
Exposure to excessive CO2 levels leaves an employee feeling dizzy, faint or uncomfortable, reduces job performance and contributes to absenteeism and presenteeism. A study on indoor environments funded by facilities management company EMCOR UK confirmed that worker performance declines when carbon dioxide exceeds acceptable levels. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), emitted in buildings through adhesives, paint and solvents, cause eye and throat irritation, nausea, headaches and more serious problems including cancer and damage to the nervous system. VOCs are found in concentrations two to five times greater in indoor environments than in nature. Particulate matter is defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a complex mixture of small particles and liquid droplets. The size of particles is directly linked to health risks, and very small particles which enter the lungs can cause serious illness. The EPA says controlling indoor air quality involves managing the source of pollutants, diluting pollutants, removing pollutants from the building through ventilation and using filtration to cleanse the air.
Using a connected lighting system to monitor and control indoor conditions
A connected lighting system can serve as a platform to host sensors and enable facility managers to leverage the value of a building’s lighting infrastructure by monitoring workspace parameters such as occupancy, temperature, light, noise, air quality, relative humidity, volatile organic compounds, CO2 levels, dust and pollution. These capabilities enable businesses to monitor the office environment and optimise conditions for the well-being of employees and visitors.