ACHOO, and Bless You!
Imagine this. You go to your office or place of employment and you start sneezing. After a while, your eyes get red and itchy, and by the end of the day you are feeling poorly enough to consider staying home for the next day. However, when you wake up the next day, you are feeling considerably better and you go to work. Only guess what! The whole thing starts all over again as soon as you get into the office.
What is happening? You may be experiencing the effect of poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and if it happens to enough people, we call it Sick Building Syndrome.
There are many things that enter the air in our work space that are dangerous to our health.
There are particulates of many types and sizes. Dust particles can be seen in a shaft of sunlight. Hair and dander particles are also present. Along with these are microscopic pests called dust mites. Plant parts including pollen are present at various times of the year. Animals also contribute to our indoor air mix. Adding to these are VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), which include formaldehyde (used in furniture and carpets), benzene and other gasses. There are also bacteria, viruses, germs and mold spores.
Now, before you get sick just from reading this, please bear in mind that while these things may be present in the air we breathe, they are not usually present in concentrations strong enough to harm us. In other words, we can breathe in a couple of dust mites and, as horrible as that sounds, we will not get sick from them. Or, we can maintain good and vibrant health in the presence of low levels of things which in higher levels would harm us. It is when these pollutants are allowed to build up in concentration that they become a health risk.
Ventilation is one of the key weapons in the war against the accumulation of these contaminants. Flushing a room with fresh air is like giving a thirsty man a cup of cold water. Out with the bad, in with the good.
However, in some climates, we cannot always open windows and doors to allow for natural ventilation. We use HVAC systems to provide adequate air exchanges. We also use it to provide heating and cooling.
Our modern systems are designed to provide the proper amount of air going in and going out. ASHRAE has a set standard for air exchanges for various types of building use.
Unfortunately, the same equipment that flushes our air also can contribute to poor indoor air quality.
Fibreglass lining from the air handling unit can deteriorate, and very small particles of fibreglass (referred to as fibreglass spears) can migrate through the ducting systems and into the work space.
Additionally, mold can grow in a protected environment with a nutrient source and adequate moisture to allow it to thrive.
There are a large number of factors that contribute to the indoor air quality and the related health of employees in these spaces. Some people with compromised immune systems can experience this phenomenon, when the majority of people are not affected. In other instances the resulting poor health in a building will contribute to a notable number of lost days and serious revenue losses from unproductive and unhappy employees. The cost of periodic HVAC system maintenance can easily be eclipsed by lost employee days. Having your HVAC systems evaluated to determine the internal health and generating an effective maintenance approach to ensure continued good health, could end up contributing to the bottom line.