Healthy Interiors

Good air is crucial to human well-being and yet it is often given too little attention. However, it influences both the cognitive abilities and the productivity of employees in companies.

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What does "good air" mean?

Good air is perceived as clean, it smells fresh and seems to have an invigorating effect. Legal guideline values have been enacted in order to be able to measure good air: It must not contain any impurities or harmful substances above these standards.

Healthy air is measurable – if air is perceived as good, it has this composition:

  • 78 percent nitrogen

  • 21 percent oxygen

  • 0.03 percent carbon dioxide

  • 0.93 percent noble gases

Besides, good air does not smell and simply looks good too: It appears completely colorless, is not laced with droplets of mist, nor does it seem gray and smoky. The latter aspects may be negligible indoors, but carbon dioxide presents itself as a real problem, rising rapidly in unventilated or poorly ventilated spaces. It is said to be between 430 PPM and 700 PPM, and when this level is exceeded, the first signs of fatigue, discomfort, and in some cases, headaches already become apparent. The productivity of the employees in the rooms concerned decreases, and in the long term, the number of cases of illness even increases.

Factors for Good Air in Rooms

Good air is characterized by the following factors:

  • Ideal humidity

The relative humidity should be between 40 and 60 percent. It can be measured with the help of a hygrometer.

  • Temperature for well-being

People perceive an ideal temperature as always being different, so a room can have a certain temperature range. For the office, the room temperature should be between 20 and 24 °C, and in summer it must not exceed 25 °C. The temperature should be balanced, the head-foot drop should not be more than 4 °C.

  • Optimum airspeed

Not only are infections promoted when a person sits in a draught, they also do not feel comfortable if the airspeed is too high. If it is more than 0.2 m/s, this is perceived as unpleasant and the performance of the employees decreases.

The individual factors for good air can be influenced by a continuous supply of fresh air or a regular exchange of air(ventilation).

Furniture that does not emit formaldehyde as well as non-toxic and, at best, natural building materials also contribute to better indoor air.

In addition, monitoring the air quality is a good idea, which is made possible, among other things, by the plug-and-play solution from AIRICA. This allows you to check the air in rooms where several people work at any time and receive recommendations for action to improve the air. This serves several interests at the same time.

On the one hand, employees should be offered a working environment that is as attractive as possible, which will make them feel motivated, less ill and show improved cognitive performance.

On the other hand, safety in the office is to be increased by reducing the risk of infection and improving concentration and the associated lower error rate.

Fresh Air Makes You Happy

Normally, the proportion of CO2 in the air is only 0.04 percent, while the proportion of oxygen is given as 21 percent. The air that a person exhales shows a significant shift in these values, and so the CO2 content in exhaled air is already 5.6 percent and the oxygen content is only 14 percent. The guideline value for CO2 concentration indoors is 1,000 ppm (parts per million), and about one-third of people feel unwell at a value of 1,400 ppm. For comparison: outdoors, the values are just 400 ppm. Studies have shown that CO2 concentrations of up to 5,000 ppm have been found in poorly ventilated school rooms. Even if these do not represent an acute health hazard, they do cause discomfort, a lack of concentration, and reduced learning success. The same can be applied to offices, where the effects of poor air are comparable.

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Checklist: Ventilate properly

We spend over 90% of the day indoors, so we should make sure that the air we breathe is healthy. The most important measure for healthy indoor air is ventilation. Here are the most important tips.

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Reasons for Feelings of Happiness through Good Air

According to the previous explanations, good air has a direct effect on the well-being of a person. He feels more efficient, through sufficient oxygen in the air, the body is also supplied with sufficient oxygen. The blood circulation of the body and especially of the brain is stimulated.

If you feel well and fit, you are in a good mood and this in turn is achieved through the release of the happiness hormone dopamine.

If dopamine is released in sufficient quantities, the internal organs are better supplied with blood and the transmission of stimuli and impulse control of the muscles is optimized. Together with serotonin and noradrenaline, dopamine is considered the body's own happiness drug and ensures that we feel good.

How much bad air in buildings can affect people is impressively shown by the "ProKlimA-Study", which was carried out in Germany between 1994 and 2000. The aim was to investigate the actual presence of sick building syndrome among office workers

The study involved around 5,000 employees who completed questionnaires and had extensive measurements taken in their offices. Clinical data were also collected.

The results of the study showed that most of the complaints attributable to sick building syndrome occurred after spending time in rooms equipped with air conditioning. If the people were no longer in the rooms for some time, they felt better again. Some of those affected even suffered from skin and mucous membrane irritations, allergy symptoms, and non-specific complaints. It is clear that this should not be associated with feelings of happiness.

To ensure good air in rooms, the regular exchange of air is of immense importance

Continuous ventilation is not very effective; regular intermittent ventilation, in which the entire room air is exchanged, is better.

In addition, the continuous automatic testing of the room air is possible by corresponding devices such as the models from AIRICA. These are integrated into the ongoing operation and, thanks to regular measurements of the room air quality and the issuing of recommendations for action, ensure that a direct response can be made to deteriorating air. Even before the feel-good climate in the room begins to deteriorate!

Supporting Cognitive Abilities through Good Air

Studies from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University have found that people who work in well-ventilated offices have significantly increased cognitive function scores. This means that in offices with very low levels of pollutants and carbon dioxide in the air, the cognitive performance of employees increases greatly. The study examined people in so-called green buildings as well as non-green buildings. Participants were unaware of any study; it was a double-blind study. The results of the study were published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives on October 26, 2015, and they suggested that good air in offices can objectively measure and significantly increase employee performance.

The issue of indoor air quality still receives too little attention in many companies, yet the stated goal of those charged with human resources, as well as managers, is to motivate employees and provide them with a work environment in which high performance is possible because of their own well-being. Researchers at the above-mentioned institutions came to the conclusion that even small changes to the indoor air can lead to significantly better cognitive performance. For this purpose, the effects of ventilation, carbon dioxide as well as pollutants contained in the air on the cognitive abilities of the employees were investigated. The participants in the study were exposed to various building conditions, including high concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and varying levels of CO2 emissions. At the end of each day, cognitive tests were conducted with the participants. It was found that employees who worked in green environments and were exposed to only low levels of pollution had a significantly higher cognitive performance. Their results were up to 61 percent better!

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These Values are strongly Influenced by Good Air

On average, all scores of employees who worked in green environments were twice as good as those of study participants who had to work in conventional conditions. Most notably, the domains:

  • Crisis Response

  • Strategy

  • Information Use

were significantly increased. The effects of CO2 were also examined and the researchers found that seven of the nine cognitive functions tested decreased significantly when the subjects worked in an environment with conventional ventilation.

Thus, it can be concluded that cognitive performance is directly related to air quality. Good air makes it much easier to cope with cognitive demands. With the help of indoor air monitoring, it is possible to identify negative influencing factors and eliminate them when possible countermeasures are suggested.

Increasing Productivity: Good Air Quality for Better Performance

For HR managers and executives, it is often a balancing act: on the one hand, they want to save costs; on the other hand, they want their employees to be motivated and thus productive. But is it possible to combine both? Less motivated employees are not productive and do not achieve the good results, even in longer working hours, that highly motivated employees, who feel comfortable and happy at their workplace, can show. Low-motivated employees are more likely to be ill and cause additional costs as non-productive company employees

It is therefore important to positively influence the performance of employees, and this can be done at little extra cost. These pay off quickly through better company results, because the employees achieve the set goals in less time, show more performance and above all work for the company and not just to earn money themselves. This makes a decisive difference!

Influences of Good Air on Productivity

Poor indoor air with high levels of VOCs and CO2 leads to a reduced ability to solve problems, to more errors even in daily routine tasks and thus to a safety risk.

Employees who cannot enjoy good air and consequently breathe in higher CO2 concentrations can no longer process information well. They make poorer or delayed decisions, which can lead to an increase in costs. Many effects of bad air cannot be named directly, because disadvantages already arise for a company when employees are unfocused or do not feel well. They may not even notice the decline in their own productivity and therefore cannot objectively assess it. In addition, some effects cannot be quantified in monetary terms.

Experts have made calculations using a fictitious employee, which costs around 50,000 euros per year. Improved ventilation alone could generate between 1,000 and 9,000 euros per year in cost benefits, as this employee's productivity would increase by around 2 to 18 percent per year as a result of good air. For companies with 100 employees, this would mean a cost advantage of between 100,000 and 900,000 euros. However, it is important here to rely on systems that themselves operate very energy-efficiently.

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Reducing the Risk of Infection through Good Ventilation

The risk of infection in closed rooms plays a major role not only in the current pandemic times. Even otherwise, around 57 percent of employee absences due to illness can be attributed to poor ventilation. However, it is important to make it clear to a company's employees that it is not possible to achieve absolute zero risk, even when using modern indoor air testing equipment. Whenever people congregate in a confined space, there will be health risks. These are neutralized for the most part by the immune system. The smaller part, on the other hand, must be absorbed by effective ventilation. This is where a kind of public health pyramid of measures comes into play.

Achieving good air by means of the pyramid of measures

The public health system is familiar with the pyramid of measures as a way of minimizing health risks, even if these can never be completely ruled out. There are five types of controls, which are presented in descending order:

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1. Avoiding the risk

Employees can be sent to the home office and thus do not represent a risk of infection within the company. Although this measurement is considered particularly effective, it is not feasible in every company and often not in the long term.

2. Formation of teams

Different workgroups should be physically separated from each other so that any disease incidence remains within that group. This measure is also not always feasible.

3. Technical controls

Healthy building materials, furniture, and fixtures that do not emit harmful volatile organic compounds and low CO2 levels are key to healthy working. The control of good air is made possible by technical devices that are scalable and therefore adaptable to any company. These solutions, such as AIRICA 's, take into account the number of people in the room, the size of the room, and other factors to assess indoor air quality. Air pressure, room temperature, and humidity are other quality factors that are measurable and relevant. Users are provided with a dashboard that can be used to display the current situation as well as the previous development of the room air. Based on this, the ventilation management can be adjusted.

4. Administrative measures

Employees should be able to have sufficient distance from each other; individual offices are preferable. It is also possible to have employees work in shifts so that fewer employees are present per shift. The occupancy density is thus reduced by half. This is not feasible in every case, but at least possibilities for time-shifted working should be sought. In this way, different arrival and departure times can be used to avoid rush hours, which mainly affect the occupancy of lifts and stairs.

Meetings for conferences and discussions can also take place virtually.

5. Use personal protective equipment

This control measure is considered to be the least effective. Wearing a mask is considered important, and this should always be put on when entering common areas.

Conclusion

Good air leads to better performance and productivity in the company

Numerous studies have shown that the quality of indoor air is directly related to the performance of employees in the company. Health and well-being are also a decisive criterion for many people when deciding whether to stay at a workplace or change employers. It is therefore in the interest of both sides to ensure good air. Employees are more efficient and motivated and feel good. They themselves are more satisfied with themselves and their work, stand behind their company and show significantly better cognitive performance. This in turn benefits the companies, which can achieve high cost advantages of between 2 and 18 percent per employee and year. Additional expenses due to lower productivity and higher sick leave among employees are partially eliminated.

The aim is to actively influence the quality of the indoor air, which is possible through the use of appropriate sensors. These should be adaptable to local conditions and take into account various individual factors. Based on the collected data, recommendations can be made for influencing the indoor air. This applies, for example, with regard to ventilation times and the improvement of air humidity. This strengthens both sides: the company's side as well as the employee's side, who feels more comfortable in the company due to the perceived appreciation of his health. This in turn manifests itself in higher loyalty and improved performance.