As the COVID pandemic accelerated the transition of the work environment to remote and hybrid work, building and business owners have struggled to balance the growing building management costs, including maintaining and growing tenant occupancy, attracting and retaining employees, and creating safe workplace environments.
Growing concern and demand for healthier indoor environments has also spurred the growth of important, but often costly healthy building initiatives such as WELL Certification programs, in which indoor air quality (IAQ) monitoring is one key component.
Is investing in an IAQ solution worth it?
Let’s take a look at how some of the ways poor IAQ impacts employee health, productivity, absenteeism, and creates hidden business costs. We will also discuss how investing in an IAQ solution can support occupancy goals, Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives, and attract talent that can improve your bottom line.
IAQ Monitoring in Commercial Spaces
The average person breathes about 6 liters of air per minute (at rest) - which can be around 3,000 liters of air over the course of an 8 hour work day. Clearly, indoor air quality is a critical component to support occupant health in the built environment.
Financial Impact of Illness on Employee Productivity, Absenteeism and Presenteeism
One of the more insidious causes of erosion of business profits preceding the pandemic is loss of employee productivity from illness-related absenteeism and presenteeism (coming to work while sick). Since the cost of employees, specifically salaries and benefits make up roughly 90% of a business’s operating expenses, small changes to staff productivity can have big financial consequences.
Based on published research, this bottom-up analysis in the table below (See Fig. 1) illustrates the potential financial losses that impact consistent annual seasonal illnesses (e.g.,flu, common cold) can impose on companies in hidden ways. This analysis reveals that a small company could lose on average $4,500/year per employee due to illness-related lost productivity and absenteeism.
Figure 1: Simulation of financial impact of lost productivity for typical small business.
In 2015, the total cost of lost productivity from working while sick was estimated at $150 billion per year - the flu alone costing $10 billion.
Allergic rhinitis is another leading contributor to absenteeism and presenteeism, a prevalent condition affecting 55% of the population. One NIH Study found that allergies alone contributed on average of $593 of lost productivity per employee.
Allergen exposure can be reduced by proper IAQ management with solutions such as ventilation when outdoor air quality is good, filtration and maintenance of mid-range humidity.
Potential profit losses from employee illnesses and impairments are alarming, however, there is much that can be done to reduce these costs and improve operational ROI by improving IAQ in offices and workplaces.
Not only are many contagious diseases airborne, air quality also directly affects cognition. When IAQ is properly managed to support health, productivity can improve by 8 to 11%.
How Can We Improve Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in Commercial Office Buildings
Monitoring and improving IAQ will increasingly represent a pillar of building management. Along with evolving IAQ recommendations from groups like USGBC and ASHRAE, the press is increasingly highlighting the issue. A recent New York Times article, “Why We’re Still Breathing Dirty Indoor Air”, states that “scientists agree that the next pandemic will almost certainly arise from another airborne virus. But improving air quality isn’t just about fighting infectious diseases: Indoor pollution can damage the heart, lungs and brain, shortening life spans and lowering cognition. And wildfires, outdoor air pollution and climate change will quickly preclude Band-Aid solutions, like simply opening windows or pumping in more air from outside.”
Strategies to maintain IAQ in commercial buildings and work environments have traditionally relied on a combination of:
Identifying and controlling obvious sources of indoor air pollution
Scheduled HVAC maintenance
Portable air purifiers
Ventilating at prescribed rates
“We can’t improve what we can’t measure"
While each of these strategies are important, they lack a holistic, health-focused approach that could result in unintended health consequences and unnecessarily high energy consumption.
As a result, growth and interest in IAQ monitoring in offices and workplaces has emerged. Workplace owners and operators express interest not just from a public health standpoint, but also because research has shown that good IAQ can improve productivity and create a point of difference to attract and retain occupants and build profitability.
Building4Health: A Game-Changing Medically-based IAQ System
Building4Health IAQ technology and platform can help maintain productivity by giving building owners and managers the tools and data they need to create an indoor environment that supports occupant health.
How are we different?
Our patented medically based algorithm, B4H Vital Signs, is derived through decades of medical research and provides a broader, more holistic approach to overall building management for occupant health as well as building efficiency. Specifically, our comprehensive software and hardware components include:
Best-In-Class sensors that measure over ten indoor and outdoor air quality metrics in real-time
B4H Vital Signs technology evaluates the impact on human physiology based on medical research
B4H IAQ platform visualizes data and gives actionable insights based on both indoor and outdoor conditions
Real-time remediation recommendations are guided by the B4H Vital Signs algorithm to support building management and to optimize health and efficiency
Our commercial-grade IAQ solution is ideal for all building types, including offices, schools, senior living communities, and healthcare facilities.
Learn more about our Building4Health Solution.
Contact Us to meet with a B4H specialist.
Note: This article was adapted from the original article published in Engineered Systems, September 13, 2021 by Stephanie Taylor, MD.
Figure 1 Footnotes:
Graham Worrall, MB BS MSc FCFP. 2011. Acute sinusitis. Can Fam Physician. May; 57(5): 565–567.
Harvard Health Publishing, Sinus infections, March 2016.
Molinari NA, Ortega-Sanchez IR, Messonnier ML, Thompson WW, Wortley PM, Weintraub E, Bridges CB. The annual impact of seasonal influenza in the US: measuring disease burden and costs. Vaccine. 2007;25(27):5086–96.
Palmer LA, Rousculp MD, Johnston SS, Mahadevia PJ, Nichol KL. Vaccine. 2010 Effect of influenza-like illness and other wintertime respiratory illnesses on worker productivity: The child and household influenza-illness and employee function (CHIEF) study. Jul 12;28(31).
Kelly A. Reynolds, Paloma I. Beamer, Kevin R. Plotkin, Laura Y. Sifuentes , David W. Koenig, and Charles P. Gerba, The Healthy Workplace Project: Reduced Viral Exposure in an Office Setting. Arch Environ Occup Health. 2016 May 3; 71(3): 157–162.
Fisk, W. J., Black, D., & Brunner, G. (2011). Benefits and costs of improved IEQ in U.S. offices. Indoor Air, 21(5), 357–367. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0668.2011.00719
Lamb CE, Ratner PH, Johnson CE, Ambegaonkar AJ, Joshi AV, Day D, Sampson N, Eng B. Economic impact of workplace productivity losses due to allergic rhinitis compared with select medical conditions in the United States from an employer perspective. Curr Med Res Opin. 2006 Jun;22(6):1203-10. doi: 10.1185/030079906X112552. PMID: 16846553.