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Healthy HR – The choking gun

Bad air quality indoors is closely linked with asthma and, in 2008/09, 1.1 million working days were lost in the UK alone due to respiratory problems[1], yet IAQ (Good indoor air quality) inside lags far behind that of outdoor air quality on the public and business agenda. David Nicholls, Director at Desso, looks at the impacts.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) latest research[1] published in March 2014 paints a chilling picture of the effects of poor air quality and shows that in 2012 alone seven million people died as a result of exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution, that is one in eight of total global deaths. The new WHO data also reveals a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure with cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and coronary heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. This is in addition to the link between air pollution and respiratory diseases including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.
Despite this, there are currently still no regulations on the quality of indoor air in the UK, yet it has a crucial effect on our health and wellbeing and, as we spend on average more than 90 percent of our time indoors, good IAQ is of the upmost importance. To help tackle the issue on a business level, our business has launched an initiative we've called The Great Indoors, which bids to raise awareness, among other things, of the issues surrounding IAQ in the workplace, with a special focus on the problem of fine dust and its effect on respiratory problems. A part of the campaign is a survey[2] conducted among HR professionals and supported by Asthma UK, which showed that 84.7 percent do not, or don’t know if they do, currently monitor for IAQ. This is a lost opportunity as a healthy indoor environment is good for both business and the individual. A Californian study by William Fisk from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory[3] showed that improved indoor air quality can boost productivity by 0.5 to five percent per year in the U.S.

As mentioned, asthma is one of the main conditions associated with poor indoor air quality and it affects 5.4 million people in the UK with three people dying every day from asthma related illnesses, many of which are preventable[4]. Yet 68.8 percent of the HR professionals participating in the Desso and Asthma UK survey[5] acknowledged that they didn’t know what the key triggers for asthma were in their organisation, and nearly a third of the people with the condition[6] didn’t feel that their employer was doing enough to protect them from asthma at work. While the task of tackling indoor air quality may seem daunting, there are some fairly simple first steps that can be implemented to kick-start the process to improve conditions for asthmatics: Reduce the use of perfumes and air fresheners. A lot of the cleaning products contain chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can trigger asthma. It is also better to use solid, or liquid, cleaning stuffs rather than sprays and to open windows after cleaning. Perfumed air fresheners and scented products should also be avoided. 

Ensure that heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems work effectively, A fairly constant and well-ventilated indoor temperature is best for our health and wellbeing, as it promotes a dry, stable environment to work in. Install the right kind of flooring. Perhaps surprisingly, the latest studies show that contrary to common perception, textile floor coverings are twice as effective in reducing the amount of fine dust than hard flooring, with specialist solutions being eight times as effective[7]. IAQ is a serious business issue and should be a key consideration for all organisations and is likely to continue to climb up the health agenda worldwide.

1: http://www.asthma.org.uk/

2: WHO, 7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution, 25 March 2014, Source: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/air-pollution/en/

3: DESSO AirMaster® andAsthma UK survey October 2013 – 300 respondents in an online survey

4: Kumar, S., & Fisk, W, J., Role of Emerging Energy-Efficient Technologies in Promoting Workplace Productivity and Health, 13 February 2002. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. http://escholarship.org/uc/item/0sw558qr

5: http://www.asthma.org.uk/

6: DESSO AirMaster® andAsthma UK survey October 2013 – 300 respondents in an online survey

7: http://www.asthma.org.uk/

For more information go to: www.desso.co.uk

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