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Returning to the workplace? You’ll need to consider air quality

November 22, 2021
By Nicole Attias

With return-to-office looming, many are anxious about what they are returning to. Most employees are expecting to return-to-office in a hybrid fashion. (pooiekoo/Adobe Stock)

Facility managers and building owners must monitor the elements that impact occupant health to successfully achieve and maintain healthy buildings.

Air quality is a huge part of this.

Why do buildings have poor air quality to begin with? Three major reasons for poor indoor air quality in office towers include the presence of indoor air pollution sources; poorly designed, maintained or operated ventilation systems; and uses of the building that were poorly planned for when the building was designed.

With employees gradually returning to the workplace as COVID-19 restrictions start to ease in many places, people are concerned for their overall well-being.


Consequently, facility managers and landlords must have a strong focus on making their tenants feel protected, manage space effectively, clean and disinfect their premises regularly and maintain proper air quality.

According to David Butt, area service manager at Automated Logic Corporation in Mississauga, Ont.: “Most building owners are taking the initiative and preparing their facilities for a return to work and as such are heeding the advice of their partners in HVAC, BAS and engineering. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has core recommendations specifically published and can help guide owners in the right direction based on their facilities operating conditions. Also, the COGFX study provides great insight into IAQ and building environment impact on employees.”

The question of whether workers will be safe continues.

David Cooper, a mechanical engineer and president of global property and buildings at WSP recently stated, “So instead of the virus dropping out of the air within the six-foot social distancing guideline, it may well travel 10 or even 20 feet or more before coming to rest on a surface.”

Thus, sitting the recommended distance away from someone else might not provide the expected level of protection, even if buildings have enhanced filtration.

So how can viruses be cleaned from the air? Fan coil units do contain filters to catch dust and particles, but these must be maintained.

“Over time, the filters get clogged and they need to be cleaned or replaced, and quite often this isn’t done properly,” states Justin Turnpenny, also of WSP. “Good maintenance is a key thing we need to manage going forwards.”

“Improving filtration can improve the general quality of the air, but higher grades of filtration add resistance to the system: the finer the mesh, the more energy it takes to push the air through – which increases the energy consumption of the building.”

How to improve indoor air quality

  • Water office plants properly.
  • Do not block vents.
  • Dispose of garbage in a timely fashion.
  • Store food properly.
  • Avoid bringing products into the building that could release offensive or harmful odours.
  • Follow the office building smoking policy.

In summary, if you manage an office, you should place office furniture and equipment with air circulation, temperature control, and pollutant removal functions of the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system in mind.

It would also be a good idea to co-ordinate with building management in instances when responsibility for design, operation and maintenance of the ventilation system is shared.

Lastly, maintain a great relationship with building management on indoor environmental issues.

From David Butt: “One of the key factors over the coming months is stay vigilant. We are almost through this crisis.”

Nicole Attias Nicole Attias is a business writer and prospect coach based in Toronto. She can be reached at nicole@prospect2win.com.


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