1 September 2018
Maintaining a good indoor environment has a huge impact on employee health and wellbeing. Poor acoustics, stuffiness and glare from harsh lights can have a negative effect on employee productivity and their mental and physical health.
What alarming health issues can arise if an indoor environment is poor? What solutions can be implemented in order to improve indoor quality?
With 80-90% of people spending their time indoors, buildings should be designed to ensure inhabitant health is not compromised. Good indoor environment in a building can relate to its lighting, air quality, acoustic control and temperature. If not designed and maintained in an efficient manner, then these factors can have serious effects on human health.
Poor indoor environment quality reaches beyond short-term health issues to the long-term. Although some health problems might begin as a mild irritation or a common cough or cold, for those with pre-existing health issues, it can turn serious.
Way back at the turn of this century, there was a concerted move towards sustainable, energy-efficient design, meaning the health and wellbeing of employees became secondary somewhat. Buildings were not only built with lighter, more sustainable materials but airtightness became a common trend in these buildings.
However, the issue with using lighter materials is that there is less thermal mass for natural heat absorption. With materials such as concrete, higher thermal mass is prevalent because of the material’s organic properties. And higher quantities of thermal mass lessen the chances of people overheating in buildings. Reduced chances of overheating and stuffiness = content employees.
Although overheating can be combated through air ventilation, these systems have to be designed and maintained efficiently, circulating fresh as opposed to stale air around workspaces. Stale air is extremely bad for occupant health; not only causing the spread of bacteria but also increasing the risk of respiratory issues. It goes back to the old mantra: build airtight but ventilate right. Never a truer word uttered.
If poor indoor environments affect employee productivity and happiness, and if a business is run on the energy of its workforce, how are business owners supposed to keep their businesses operating if employees are ill? Surely there is more to lose than to gain?
With more and more workers informed on work-related illnesses such as ‘sick building syndrome’, this trend is changing – and rightly so. Health and wellbeing are starting to become two key elements to consider when designing a safe building. Occupant health and wellbeing is finally being given the attention it deserves.
If we are to believe the prediction that the UK’s biggest cities might reach the same temperature as Cairo in 30 years’ time, then we need to start thinking about long-term solutions.
If corporate companies can achieve 2% better employee productivity by spending an extra 1% of capital on greater indoor environment quality, then surely, they should. The challenge, however, is to get developers and clients to consider this in the design stage so that cost is not wasted on rectifying any issues that might arise in the future. By thinking proactively as opposed to reactively, not only will cost to human health be prevented, wider costs to businesses will also be reduced. Designing more efficiently in the initial stages is a far better alternative to spending money on costly retrofits.
Moreover, another potential solution is offsite manufacturing; a method which can be utilised to ensure quality control, therefore, reducing the chance of jeopardising product quality onsite. It minimises product modification onsite, meaning construction workers no longer have the ability to cut corners on a project.
Putting people at the centre of a project’s design will futureproof buildings from having poor indoor environment quality. By minimising health risks to employees, businesses will see greater productivity and improved happiness levels in their workforce.
Andy Dengel will be speaking at this year’s CABE Annual Conference on 4th and 5th October. For more information and your chance to hear more, please visit here.