Does your office make you sick?

While the government looks at strategies for saving us from the harmful effects of pollution in our towns and streets, how about looking into the problems in our offices and sick building syndrome?

Poor air quality seriously impairs our ability to think clearly, makes us feel unwell, helps spread viruses like colds and flu, and can cause respiratory and cardio-vascular diseases. Just because we can’t see or smell the pollution indoors, doesn't mean it isn’t there! To improve the health and wellbeing of building occupants it is essential to monitor and control indoor air quality.

“With a growing body of evidence supporting the theory that people who are healthier and happier tend to be more productive, progressive companies are exploring new ways to improve the comfort, health and wellbeing of their employees,” commented Jonathan Copley of Siemens Smart Infrastructure. “Early adopters of wearables in building applications are likely to be in health and care facilities, home and hospitality markets. Wearable tags have already been deployed to monitor the vital signs of patients to control their recovery environment and similarly, IoT sensors are being developed to aid people in distressed situations e.g. an elderly person who had fallen or an emergency responder trapped in a burning building.”

A myriad building-related factors can inflame symptoms such as headaches, blocked or runny nose, skin irritations, dry and sore eyes, tiredness and difficulty concentrating. Therefore, many sufferers are requiring more precise controls over the following environmental factors in the workplace:


  • CO2 levels of 1500 to 3,000 parts per million are common in meeting rooms, yet these levels impair our ability to use information by up to 60% and reduce initiative by over 90%.
  • Humidity levels, either too high or too low, have a dramatic effect on the spread of viruses and impact of allergens. A lack of humidity control means a high cost in terms of reduced productivity and increased absenteeism as well as lowered morale.
  • VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) can arise from cleaning chemicals, paints, carpets, office equipment, or come in from outside through windows or unfiltered ventilation systems. Even in low concentrations, they can affect the respiratory, reproductive and central nervous systems; liver and spleen functions and the blood.
  • Fine Dust is worst in major cities and heavily industrialized areas. It is pumped out by engine exhausts, industrial processes, power stations, construction activities and natural sources. Small particles can get into the lungs and cause diseases from asthma to cancer.
  • Lighting is going through an evolution to reduce power usage and extend lifecycles; but in the process, we should not make progress at the expense of people’s need for daylight, or daylight equivalent, in order to function well. Otherwise people become stressed and depressed as well as getting eye strain.

Air quality improvements can be made through the deployment of advanced HEPA and carbon-activated air purifiers to screen harmful pollutants, while air-quality monitors, sensitive to PM2.5 warn of foreign particles <2.5 micrometers Ø that are small enough to travel deep into the lungs. 

In our efforts to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we have almost hermetically sealed modern buildings. The air can quickly become toxic. 
Jonathan Copley, Siemens Smart Infrastructure

Physical redesigns of buildings might involve adding ventilation or creating windows to exploit aspects that take advantage of natural light. For complete internal environmental control, room automation solutions maintain the perfect environment. A network of high accuracy self-calibrating sensors feed real-time information back into these systems to manage HVAC, lighting and CO2 levels.


Jonathan Copley, of Siemens Smart Infrastructure explains, “In our efforts to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we have almost hermetically sealed modern buildings. The air can quickly become toxic. Checking and monitoring air quality is inexpensive, and the solution may be as simple as opening a window occasionally. If needed, installing proper air quality control systems can quickly be paid for through increased productivity, lower employee turnover and a happier workforce”.


Picture credits: Siemens AG

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