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How to Properly Ventilate Your Workplace

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shutterstock_173265281Most of us will spend about half of our life in a work or office environment. For that reason, we need to make commercial buildings safe and comfortable for workers.

Ventilation is something that many people do not consider, and yet poor ventilation can lead to many problems for both the building itself and your employees.

Problems associated with poor ventilation

Concentration of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide

When there is insufficient air movement within a room or building, you will find a decrease in oxygen levels and an increase in carbon dioxide. This can make the air seem stuffy, which can then lead to headaches and lethargy amongst workers. It takes as little as 0.02% excess carbon dioxide in a building compared to the outside air for a person to notice stuffy air conditions.

Mould, mildew and condensation

Mould and mildew are quite problematic and can certainly spread fast once they have started forming. This is usually a sign of insufficient cross flow ventilation with very poor indoor air quality. Mould and mildew can create health problems within the respiratory system such as asthma. Mould spores can travel through the air that is being breathed in, and affect those who already have underlying breathing problems.

Humidity and temperature

It may seem obvious, but ensuring an optimal temperature and humidity within a commercial building is essential. Humid conditions or temperatures can influence a person’s physical and mental activity. When workers are comfortable, they will be able to work more effectively. Humidity and temperature can also affect certain timbers, meaning you could see damage occur to your office equipment if the conditions are not right.

Harmful substances and dust

Dust can easily build up in a building with poor air ventilation. Added to the normal everyday sources of odours, cigarette smoke, pollens, and pollutants in the air, this can certainly affect a worker’s health. Cleaning products can also increase contamination of the air.

How to improve air quality

Now that we’ve noted what could go wrong with poor ventilation, let’s look at what can be done to improve the air quality within commercial buildings and help achieve optimal conditions within the workplace.

Natural ventilation

Letting in fresh, natural air can be a good way to increase the airflow within a building and help alleviate pollutants from the air. However, natural ventilation can also be unpredictable and uncontrollable. Natural ventilation is not possible without the correct flow of wind outside and suitable weather conditions. Outside temperatures can also affect how suitable the natural ventilation will be for the building. Having said this, natural ventilation can help conditions within a commercial building if there are no other ventilation options available.

Spot ventilation

Like the exhaust fan above the stove in the kitchen or the air vent in the bathroom, spot ventilation can work to help reduce the amounts of moisture and air pollution at the source. This works well for areas within a commercial building that require extra ventilation, such as commercial kitchens or near equipment such as photocopiers and printers.

Whole-building ventilation

If you believe natural and spot ventilation will not be sufficient to ensure good quality air within the building, whole-building ventilation systems can provide an alternative, with controlled ventilation. These systems will utilise fans and duct systems to remove stale, dusty, polluted air and replace it with fresh, clean air throughout the building.

Air conditioning

One of the easiest methods of creating better airflow in a building is by installing air conditioning systems. Air conditioners can purify air by drawing out pollen, dust, and mould spores from the air, filtering it, and providing cleaner air to a building’s interior. Of course, there is also the added bonus of achieving comfortable temperatures for workers when using this method during extreme weather.

Air changes and floor space

Further to the types of ventilation you can utilise within the building, there are certain general standards to help keep good ventilation flowing. The optimum floor space requirement per person ranges from 50 to 100 square feet with ceiling heights not exceeding 10 to 12 feet high. A minimum of four to six air changes is recommended in work environments. Any more than six air changes within the hour can create a draught-like environment and should be avoided. The minimum standard of fresh air per hour per person ranges from 300 to 3,000 cubic feet. These amounts of fresh air can provide good quality air for workers throughout the day.

Controlling air pollutants

Many air pollutants are generated by the very products that are in your office building. This includes furniture, the building itself, residual paint, carpets, and cleaning materials. By choosing better furnishings that do not have as many strong odours or finishes, such as wood furnishings with protectants and polishes, you can start to eliminate some of the air pollutants. It is also advised to choose ‘green’ cleaning products, and avoid letting in outside air that is close to contaminants like heavy traffic, building exhausts, plumbing vents, and generators.

If you’re looking for a cleaner, healthier, and more energised work environment, consider your ventilation and how you can make improvements to it.

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