Impacting Employee Absenteeism From the Inside Out

Could this age-old technique be key to battling the indoor air pollutant blues?

A recent Forbes article cites illness as a leading cause of employee absenteeism, particularly during the cold and flu season. This unscheduled time off costs the organization over $3,500 per year per employee, according to published estimates.

So what can employers do? We certainly don’t want sick employees to come in and infect their co-workers.

A proven technique

In the 1920s, the British cut the mortality rate of pneumonia from 80 percent to 48 percent using hydrogen peroxide therapy. Hydrogen peroxide is considered the safest oxidizer available (after oxygen). Today, Photohydroionization (PHI), a patented ionized hydroperoxide technology, is widely utilized in PHI-CELL® air purification systems to simulate naturally occurring hydroperoxides. PHI systems kill microbes at the source, in the room, before you ever come in contact with them. This patented technology has been tested in university studies, proving to “kill off” a sneeze within three feet.

A critical need

To minimize common risk factors such as mold, bacteria, viruses, odors/VOCs and allergens, effective air purification and filtration systems are available and easily installed in a building’s HVAC system. A natural, chemical-free approach to air treatment has been shown to reduce even influenza and Norwalk, two of the most “critically acclaimed” causes of employee sick days. We spend more than 90 percent of our day inside, yet the air is often more polluted than what we breathe outside. As employers, we can’t afford not to take action.

SOURCE: Allison Larsson, Marketing Manager, RGF Environmental Group, Inc

In the United States, an estimated one million buildings contain poor indoor air quality (IAQ), with levels of indoor pollutants often four or five times higher than those outside. Additionally, more than one-half of these indoor air problems are the result of inadequate or improperly operated and poorly maintained heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems.

Poor ventilation in commercial buildings including offices, auditoriums, factories, schools and hospitals have a direct effect on workplace health, safety and overall productivity.

Diagnosing building-related illness

According to ASHRAE, building-related illness (BRI) can be found in nearly two-thirds of workplace buildings, and a building is deemed “sick” when 20 percent of its occupants voluntarily complain of discomfort symptoms for periods exceeding two weeks. Adverse health effects can include headaches, fatigue, and eye, nose and throat irritation.

Common pollutants causing IAQ problems include fungi, dust and chemicals from new carpeting, paint and furniture, directly impacting rates of absence, work performance and health care costs.

Strategies for achieving acceptable IAQ

The highest priority in improving IAQ is the reduction of emission substances into the indoor environment. For building owners and operators, this means working in the conceptual stages with those involved in design and construction to carefully select the best materials, furnishing, carpets and paints to help limit emissions. By using low-emitting materials, the need for ventilation may be reduced and air quality may be improved.

Building owners and operators may also find filtration of outdoor air and/or the use of air cleaning technologies an effective way of improving IAQ. Changing air filters regularly and annual HVAC audits minimize indoor air pollutants, maximize energy efficiency and provide a safe and healthy workplace.

ASHRAE’s resources on IAQ

The ASHRAE and its more than 56,000 members worldwide work tirelessly to improve IAQ in commercial buildings. Through this work, the Society continuously creates and advances toward a future where the built environment is healthier, more comfortable and more energy efficient, which will, in turn, produce a more sustainable world for future generations.