Poor Air Quality In The Office May Cause Employees To React
A new study by scientists at Harvard University has found that the air quality in the office can significantly affect employees’ cognitive functions, such as reaction time and concentration.
“We have a lot of research on exposure to outdoor pollution,” lead author Jose Guillermo Cedeno Laurent said in an interview with AFP. We spend 90% of our time indoors.
He added that limited past research on indoor environments has focused on measures such as thermal comfort and satisfaction, rather than cognitive outcomes.
Cedino Laurent and colleagues designed a study that tracked 302 office workers for one year in six countries, including China, India, Mexico, Thailand, the United States and the United Kingdom. The study concluded in March 2020, when many parts of the world were under lockdown due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) outbreak.
Participants in the study, aged 18 to 65, worked in an office building at least three days a week, with a fixed seat in the office, in industries ranging from engineering, real estate investment, construction and technology.
Their workspace is equipped with environmental sensors to instantly monitor fine aerosol (PM2.5) density at 2.5 microns and below, as well as carbon dioxide concentration, temperature and relative humidity.
Participants were to install a specially made app on their mobile phone, which was used to perform a cognitive test. They are tested at scheduled times, or when sensors detect a drop or rise in PM2.5 particulate and carbon dioxide levels.
The results showed that an increase of 10 micrograms of PM2.5 particles per cubic meter resulted in about a 1% difference in the test’s response time and a more than 1% drop in accuracy.
In terms of CO2, an increase of 500 PPM (parts per million) resulted in more than a 1% difference in the test’s response time and a more than 2% drop in accuracy, and incremental changes in CO2 of this magnitude are not uncommon.
As Congress prepares to pass an infrastructure package, Cedino Laurent believes it’s time to create energy-efficient buildings that provide proper ventilation and air filtration.
While past research has shown that long-term exposure to PM2.5 particles can stimulate the central nervous system and cause long-term neurodegenerative disease, this is the first time that research has shown short-term effects, he said.
For those who work in the office, he recommends opening the windows and upgrading the building’s filtration system or purchasing a high-quality air cleaner if the outdoor air quality is poor.