- Published: Gulf News; 12:27 August 13, 2014 (http://goo.gl/2fO8wT)
A healthy employee is a happy one. Many companies have realised that by focusing on employee wellness they not only improve their market reputation, but also the level of employee engagement and productivity, which positively impacts their bottom-line.
There are various workplace initiatives taking place across the UAE to promote a healthier lifestyle, from offering guidance on healthy eating, sleeping, and exercise to free health check-ups. As a fit-out contractor specialised in green interiors, we are encouraged to see more companies rethink the way they fit-out their offices to support a healthier lifestyle for employees.
There is, however, an issue which is often overlooked: indoor air quality. Although a survey by the Environment Agency in Abu Dhabi shows people are significantly more aware of the importance of air quality — with awareness rising from 7 per cent in 2013 to 90 per cent in 2014 — the issue of indoor air quality goes largely unnoticed. This is most likely due to a misconception that while the air is polluted outside, we are safe once inside our homes or offices.
The truth is indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, which is alarming considering we spend 90 per cent of our time indoors.
What exactly makes the indoor air so bad? Among the pollutants in an office are chemical emissions coming from conventional building materials, furnishings, cleaning products, paints or even office products such as printers, mould and poor ventilation. The latter is particularly relevant to the UAE, where access to fresh outdoor air is not possible most of the year, making us dependent on air conditioning systems.
Right ventilation system
Having the right ventilation system design at the time of construction and, an operation and maintenance policy that is adhered to, will help to monitor supply of fresh air. Sensors can be installed in closed meeting areas to ensure fresh air is pumped in when carbon dioxide levels are high.
To improve air quality, the countless toxins found in our indoor environment — such as formaldehyde, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), trichloroethylene, carbon monoxide and benzene, to name just a few — must be reduced as much as possible. Besides having a proper ventilation system, this can be done by using green certified fit-out products and materials with low or no VOC levels and proper housekeeping.
Adding office plants has long been a solution for improving indoor air quality and recently we have seen an increased interest in adding green walls, which are panels of plants grown vertically using hydroponics on structures that can be either free-standing or attached to walls. Not only does this improve air quality, it also provides a visual break.
Companies already operating in conventional offices can monitor the quality of their indoor air and, depending on the results, take measures to improve it. These include regularly checking and cleaning ventilation systems; adding green plants to the office to filter carbon dioxide; replacing conventional cleaning products with environmentally friendly alternatives; eliminating toxic products such as fragrance products; and opening windows when temperature and humidity levels permit.
Indoor air quality is an important factor to consider when planning your office interiors as it invariably impacts the overall working environment. We recommend companies who are thinking of fitting their office to think green from the start, as costs will not differ too much from a conventional fit-out and ‘going green’ will deliver major benefits in the long run.
— The writer is Managing Director of Summertown Interiors.