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Suggestions for improving

Indoor Air Quality in the Office Environment


Important qualifying note:

Please note that this list consists of general statements based partly on review of search findings and partly on experience. 

For example it should not be intended to imply that all natural ventilation is "good" and all artificial ventilation is "bad" or that carpets are "bad". It merely suggests that natural ventilation which is maintenance-free may be a generally "safer bet" than relying on artificial ventilation which needs to be properly maintained; and suggests that the more fluff there is in a room through carpeting etc, there may be a stronger association with some symptoms.

 

Room Structure:

All dampness must be treated at source.
All mould must be removed and treated - primarily by removing the conditions that favour mould, e.g. dampness; and not by relying solely on fungicides and special wall coatings.
Plaster work, wallpaper etc must be in good condition. Plain surfaces are preferable to embossed or other rough surfaces e.g. ‘Woodchip’.

Furnishings:

Steel cabinet shelves etc might be preferable to wooden ones.
Dividers with fluff and fabric in them, especially if covering large areas perhaps should be discouraged.
File and other storage is better enclosed in cabinets than on open shelves.
Substantial ‘archive’ material could be stored elsewhere rather then in the main office area.
In some studies symptoms have been associated with large "shelf" spaces, so efforts should be made to reduce excessive shelving.
There is evidence associating large amounts of fluff with symptoms -plain vinyl or short pile carpets are to be preferred to thick pile carpeting. Extensive use of textiles, fabrics etc is to be avoided especially if used essentially for aesthetic purposes, e.g. on walls.
Photo-copying should ideally take place in a separate dedicated room away from the office, and if printing is extensive it too should be in a separate area.

Occupants:

Occupants’ smoking must prohibited in offices.
Excessive use of deodorants, perfume etc should be discouraged.

Maintenance:

When substantial maintenance is to be carried out, e.g. repainting of the room, it is better to clear the room out completely, do the job, clean the workplace and then reintroduce the furnishings etc, rather than simply cover them with "dust sheets".
When new coatings, e.g. paint, carpeting etc are applied to rooms, a variable period of inoccupancy coupled with ventilation may be necessary to permit off-gassing of volatile organic compounds. It is difficult to generalise how long this may be - since individual circumstances vary widely. 

Cleaning of surfaces should not be undertaken with aerosol sprays but with moistened wipes (and appropriate glove protection for the skin). Dry wiping is probably better.

Heating and Ventilation:

Natural ventilation through an open window is probably the safest bet all round. Artificial ventilation can be just as good but needs to be very well designed and maintained. 

Central heating through water or oil filled radiators may be preferable to other forms of heating. Each room should have its own thermostatic control.

Natural lighting is to be encouraged as far as possible. 

 

Specific indoor sources of pollution or nuisance:

As has been mentioned, specific pollution or nuisance sources eg photocopiers and printers need to be assessed in terms of their extent of use, and likely contribution to volatile organics, noise or other nuisance, and appropriate steps taken to segregate them if necessary. 

 

Outdoor pollution:

Outdoor sources of pollution should not be overlooked e.g. if the office block is above a car park or close to a busy street. The possibility of significant outdoor chemical pollution (or noise nuisance) gaining access to, and affecting the people inside the building should be assessed and remedied. 

 

Plants:

This paragraph has been included in response to questions raised about the usefulness of plants. Although it is often asserted that plants can purify workplaces, the evidence for this is limited. Indeed it is proven that some plants can cause skin or respiratory allergies. Excessive numbers or sizes of potted plants, especially if they have a high turnover of water, in an office with inadequate ventilation could increase humidity, condensation moulds etc and therefore actually worsen the work environment. 

 

References: