A healthy environment starts with a healthy building

Author Charlie Cutler Read bio
Tags: building health work environment
Date: October 24, 2020

In one year, you will take approximately 2 million breaths in your office.

This year is not typical by any means.

The forced lockdowns and shifting to remote working has given us a new perspective and insight into how important our health and well-being really are.

And while no one could have predicted these events and how the pandemic would play out, many of us who work in offices feel a strong sense of urgency to push our organizations to invest in healthier buildings.  

History has shown many times that buildings can spread diseases fast, but if operated properly, they can also help with prevention. 

Amidst the coronavirus crisis and chaos, one thing remains very clear: we will go back to offices with new expectations and standards about building health.

But what is “building health”?

A healthy building

A healthy building is the one that allows its tenants to work safely, efficiently and be productive. This can be achieved through various things, some of which are smart engineering, minimization of health risks, and alertness to environmental factors.

According to Harvard, there are nine foundations of a healthy building:

#1 Ventilation

Outdoor air ventilation rate guidelines need to be met or even exceeded. Recirculated and outdoor air needs to be filtered so that even nano-particles are removed precisely. Outdoor air intakes should be located away from street-level pollutant sources.

#2 Air quality

Materials and furnishings with little chemical emissions should be used. Vapor barriers are crucial for limiting vapor intrusion and humidity levels must be stabilized. 

#3 Thermal health

Thermal conditions should meet comfort standards as well as maintain consistent temperature and humidity levels during the day.

#4 Moisture

Inspections should be done regularly to find and treat any moisture sources and condensation spots within the building. 

#5 Dust and pest

All surfaces should be cleaned or vacuumed daily. Pest issues should be avoided by taking precaution measures.

#6 Safety and security

Satisfactory lighting, video monitoring, fire safety preparations, maintaining an emergency action plan and other safety protocols can help safety concerns and significantly reduce stress within a building. 

#7 Water quality

Water should be tested regularly and maintained to National Drinking Water Standards, with a good water purification system. 

#8 Noise

Protection from outdoor noises and measures to control indoor noise should be put in place.

Desk by the window

#9 Lighting & Views

All work and habitation spaces should have direct lines of sight to exterior windows. There should be plentiful task lighting, and as much natural daylight as possible (without causing glare). 

How can you improve your workplace health?

Given the current situation we’re in, buildings should be designed to minimize the spread of any diseases. One path you can take is to have everyone work from their homes, it’s not a real and efficient solution, so focusing on workplace health is the way to go. Well designed building and a proactive approach to the use of space can help tremendously. 

Some of the recommended tips are:

  • Reduce spread – Hands-free entryways, elevators and flushes as well as air purifiers can help with minimizing the spread. Hand sanitizer should be accessible to everyone and present in every office.
  • Put meetings on hold – Large gatherings should be postponed and moved to a virtual space while in-person meetings should offer enough space for safe distance.
  • Repurpose unused space – If your business has been affected by the coronavirus, and you had to adjust your staff levels and operations, consider moving furniture or employees into previously unused space.

No building can entirely protect employees from illness, but improving your building’s health can significantly improve productivity levels, performance and overall employee well-being.