Benefits of Improving Air Quality are Significant

There are benefits of better air quality and increased ventilation in workspaces beyond decreasing COVID transmission. Numerous studies show poor air quality significantly affects the cognitive performance of workers.

Most office buildings have insufficient air ventilation, resulting in higher levels of carbon dioxide. Office environments also often suffer from high levels of ‘volatile organic compounds’, known as VOCs. VOCs refer to substances released from office furniture, carpets and desks, dry cleaned clothing and even common office cleaning supplies.

Studies, such as one headed by Joseph Allen of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, show changing levels of CO2 and VOCs have a significant effect on productivity. Allen commented, “What we saw were these striking, really quite dramatic impacts on decision-making performance, when all we did was make a few minor adjustments to the air quality in the building,”

His study looked at the effects of increased CO2 and VOCs on nine categories of cognitive function. In ‘green+’ environments with better air quality, scores across the board were double than those in ‘normal’ environments, on average. ‘Green+’ conditions improved strategy and information usage by almost 300%.

Scientists have found professional chess players have a 26% higher error rate under higher concentrations of fine particulate matter.

Temperature also influenced workers’ performance, with comfortable temperature and humidity yielding better results, regardless of air quality. Research has also proven temperature to be an important factor in school performance. One US study shows that, without air-conditioning, a 1°F hotter school year reduces learning by 1%.

Poor air quality in offices can also result in ‘sick building syndrome’, a collection of symptoms including eye irritation, headaches, and coughing. Improving ventilation and air quality may decrease absenteeism due to such sickness. Not only that, but scientists like Allen estimate that improved ventilation can increase productivity benefits by up to $6,500 per person per year.

As schools return for the new year across the country, many parents are concerned about ventilation in classrooms. Although states like NSW have bought thousands of air purifiers for schools, they have been unevenly distributed.

Expert group OzSage has recommended students should not go back to school until better ventilation has been assured, especially as Australia currently lacks national standards for indoor air quality. Given recent science on the transmissibility of airborne COVID, federal and state governments would do well to invest in air purifiers for close-range environments like offices and classrooms.

Unlike their kids, many office workers are still able to continue to work from home. The ability to better control air quality in their work environment is one advantage for these Australians. Investing in an air purifier and opening some windows has more benefits than you might think.

Follow Maddie’s journalism journey on Twitter.

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