By: Chris Meyer | June 5, 2019
Given that US employers lose over $260 billion each year from health-related employee absences and decreased productivity, organizations are increasingly aware of the importance of their employees’ health and its impact on the bottom line.
Add to that the fact that our environment—indoors and out—is top of mind for many business leaders, and it becomes clear that the cleaning industry has a significant business opportunity.
A case in point? Indoor air quality.
Making the Case for Indoor Air Quality
According to the World Health Organization, poor indoor air quality can:
- Increase the risk of allergies and asthma caused by moisture, mold and bacterial build up.
- Heighten the risk of lung cancer due to radon.
- Expose building occupants to asbestos fibers which have been shown to cause cancer.
- Impair childhood development due to the toxic effect of emissions from lead-based paints and/or pipes.
- Contribute to poisonings, cancer, and asthma due to volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Moreover, the risks of poor indoor air quality turn into serious business consequences for building occupants. As mentioned earlier, businesses in the U.S. lose hundreds of billions of dollars each year due to health-related employee absences, yet even when employees aren’t getting sick, poor indoor air quality decreases office work performance by 6-9%.
Despite the clear value that improved indoor air quality provides—through fewer health-related absences, reduced healthcare costs, improved productivity, and a healthier workforce—building occupants have their own business to worry about. So it’s up to building managers and cleaning professionals to get occupants’ attention and demonstrate a clear connection between indoor air quality and better business performance. Otherwise, improving indoor air quality will languish near the bottom of the priority list, which makes finding room in the budget for these efforts nearly impossible.
Understanding this and communicating the value of improving indoor air quality can position you, as a facility manager or BSC, as a trusted consultant.
And it’s not just building occupants in large commercial buildings. We now know that indoor air pollution in the home increases the risk of childhood respiratory infections, pulmonary disease, and lung cancer. As a result, individuals in residential buildings are increasingly concerned about the quality of the air they and their families breathe and its connection to their health and well-being.
Still, understanding and communicating the value of indoor air quality to building occupants is only the first step. Once that’s done, you must follow it up with a strong plan to improve the quality of your building occupants’ air.
3 Strategies to Improve Indoor Air Quality
No two building are the same, and neither are the occupants of those buildings. As such, you must take a flexible approach, using tactics grounded in sound strategy to improve indoor air quality. The EPA suggests three general strategies: source control, air cleaners, and improved ventilation.
This is often the simplest and most effective way to improve indoor air quality, according to the EPA. The idea is to simply eliminate the pollution source or to reduce its emissions, which might include VOCs from cleaning products, carbon monoxide from heating appliances, or mold spores, among other types of emissions.
For a cleaning professional, an example of source control would be using biobased, green cleaning chemicals with low amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
To avoid introducing any new sources of air pollutants via the cleaning chemicals and tools being used you should seek green cleaning chemicals that have been reviewed, rigorously tested and approved via industry standards by reputable third-party certifiers. Some highly regarded third-party certifiers include:
- UL ECOLOGO
- Green Seal
- EPA Safer Choice Program
- USDA Biopreferred Program
- South Coast AQMD
- Carpet & Rug Institute’s Seal of Approval Program
Certifications from these programs help ensure that you don’t fall for the “greenwashing” that is common among disreputable vendors who supposedly sell green cleaning chemicals, but they don’t have any scientific data verified by an objective third-party to back up that claim and often don’t actually meet green cleaning standards.
Another form of source control could be to use a proper entrance matting system to prevent people from tracking in pollutants on their shoes. 80% of incoming dirt, sand and debris from outside can be captured right at the door of a building or residence.
And yet another source control idea is to use vacuums equipped with HEPA filters, which are required to remove at least 99.97% of air particles. Just don’t forget that they need replacing every so often to remain effective. After all, if your filter is dirty it’s not able to remove any allergens caused by pet dander, dust, pollen, etc. from your floors.
Portable air cleaners and filters are effective ways to supplement your ventilation and source control efforts. That said, it’s important to note that air filters and cleaners alone cannot remove 100% of indoor air pollutants. Also, if you’re considering using an air cleaner, make sure that it can actually remove the type and amount of pollutants you need it to. The EPA doesn’t recommend using air cleaners to remove radon.
Regardless of all that, your HVAC system will undoubtedly have an air filter that you can upgrade and change periodically. To improve indoor air quality, this is a no-brainer, especially considering how affordable HVAC air filters are.
Depending on the nature of the building, improving ventilation may be difficult and/or costly because it often involves installing new equipment such as exhaust systems, windows, and vents. But increasing airflow from outdoors is an effective way to reduce the concentration of indoor air contaminants. Improving ventilation can be as simple as opening windows and doors, operating fans, or opening the vent control on a window air conditioner.
Fans from kitchens and bathrooms that direct air outdoors will also help improve indoor air quality by improving ventilation. Of course, it may not always be feasible to open windows or doors or operate a fan. However, you can use these as short-term measures during activities (such as paint stripping, cooking or welding) that generate a significant amount of air pollution.
Keeping Your Facility (and Your People) Cleaner and Healthier
One of WAXIE’s guiding principles is to help businesses keep their facilities cleaner, healthier, greener… and safer. Towards that end, we carry products and provide services and educational content that’ll help you improve the air quality of your facility, among other things.
So stick around. Have a look at our white paper on green cleaning and our articles about indoor air quality. Browse our variety of green cleaning chemicals. Then, start improving the air that you and your building occupants breathe.
Chris Meyer is content writer for WAXIE who leverages his background in facilities technology to discover and deliver educational insights to readers who want to make the world a cleaner, more efficient, and sustainable place. Chris has Bachelor’s Degrees in English and Finance from University of Hawaii at Manoa.