Enhancing Workplace Productivity: The Crucial Role of Indoor Environmental Quality for Facility Managers

In the realm of facility management, few topics have stirred as much attention and discussion as Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ). IEQ encapsulates various factors such as indoor air quality (IAQ), thermal comfort, and visual comfort, all of which play pivotal roles in shaping occupants’ experiences within built environments.

In this article, John Thoroughgood, Operations Director at MS Maintenance Solutions Ltd (MS), delves into the significance of Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) and its influencing factors. John explains, that while conversations around IEQ have intensified amidst concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, recent developments, have underscored the significance of effective operations and maintenance programs in promoting healthy, safe, and productive interior environments. If they haven’t already, we are prompting facility managers to reassess their approaches to managing interior environments and HVAC systems.

 

Understanding IEQ and Its Implications

Facility managers are increasingly recognising the profound impact that interior environments have on occupant health, well-being, and productivity. IEQ extends beyond mere physical comfort, encompassing broader dimensions of occupant satisfaction and cognitive function. As stewards of built environments, MS have been supporting facility managers with the task of balancing operational imperatives with the diverse needs of occupants, navigating challenges ranging from air quality management to thermal regulation and beyond.

 

Navigating IAQ Challenges

Addressing IAQ challenges necessitates a multifaceted approach, encompassing strategies for mitigating airborne particulates, odours, and contaminants. While the basic rule of providing outside air to continuously refresh the interior environment and reduce carbon dioxide levels (CO2) has not changed, recent insights have highlighted the critical role of ventilation and filtration systems in safeguarding occupant health and cognitive function. Levels of 400 – 1,000ppm of carbon dioxide are considered typical of occupied indoor spaces with good air exchange. While increasing outside air levels and implementing high-efficiency HEPA filtration systems have emerged as effective measures to meet these requirements, facility managers must carefully weigh the associated costs against the potential benefits to occupants and organisational productivity. Challenges arise concerning the feasibility of upgrading systems to accommodate enhanced filtration and increased outside air intake, underscoring the importance of balancing costs with the potential benefits.

Implementing interventions such as enhanced ventilation, and high-efficiency filtration systems can significantly improve IAQ and mitigate associated health risks.

 

Implementing Sensor Technology

Constant ventilation to one space within a building is neither efficient nor cost-effective. Air quality monitoring and sensor technology offer a solution.

Efficient ventilation strategies include:

  1. Scheduled ventilation: Adjusting ventilation based on predicted occupancy to avoid energy waste.
  2. Motion sensors: Increasing ventilation when motion is detected, although it may not accurately reflect the number of occupants.
  3. CO2 sensors: Providing accurate data on CO2 levels to adjust ventilation, accordingly, known as Demand Control Ventilation (DCV), leading to optimised airflow and cost control.

Placing CO2 sensors strategically and analysing data over time enhances system accuracy. The benefits of using CO2 sensors and DCV include reduced energy consumption, improved indoor air quality, enhanced employee comfort, and cost savings on maintenance.

 

Optimising Thermal Comfort

Temperature regulation remains a cornerstone of occupant comfort and productivity, when occupants are not comfortable, they are distracted and less productive. Factors such as activity levels and clothing layers immediately impact the standard complaints of being too hot or too cold from occupants. Engineers spend a lot of time responding to these calls – investigating, adjusting setpoints, fixing equipment, re-balancing systems and relocating people and sensors. Acceptable temperature levels are outlined in the Workplace (Health & Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 which place a legal responsibility on the employer to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace. They state temperatures should normally be no lower than 16 degrees Celsius.

Occupants may not be aware but both high and low humidity levels can also impact their comfort too. Optimum humidity levels are between 40% and 60%, but in any case, they should be kept within 30% and 70%. Humidity levels below 40% will begin to cause problems for building users. Excessive humidity raises the risk of mould and mildew proliferation, causing the air to feel clammy. Conversely, overly dry indoor air can lead to accelerated dehydration, resulting in dry skin and other discomforts.

Typically, most people would overlook air speed unless they feel the breeze of a fan nearby. HVAC designs in facilities should meticulously avoid high-velocity airflow directly targeting individuals, as noticeable drafts can cause discomfort. Complaints from occupants about feeling drafty or hearing air noise are clear indicators of airspeed issues.Top of Form

ASHRAE standards provide valuable guidelines for maintaining thermal comfort, emphasising the interplay between temperature, humidity, air speed, and occupant activity levels. By adopting nuanced approaches to thermal management, facility managers can create environments that cater to the diverse needs of occupants while optimising energy efficiency.

 

WELL Building Standard can create healthier, more sustainable workplaces.

Light plays a significant role in the well-being of individuals, impacting their health in various ways. Optimal lighting conditions, encompassing both natural and artificial sources, can enhance focus, stabilise mood, and facilitate a restful night’s sleep, thereby promoting overall health and productivity. Contemporary workplaces increasingly employ lighting strategies to maximise exposure and foster creativity and efficiency.

The concept of WELL Light is centred around creating an environment that supports people’s health and performance by integrating natural and electric light to enhance visual clarity and comfort. Inadequate lighting, either too dim or excessively bright, can detrimentally affect workspace functionality and occupants’ mood, potentially reducing productivity.

Within the WELL Building Standard framework, lighting strategies address numerous factors that contribute to human health and performance. Emphasis is placed on ensuring that lighting benefits individuals directly, rather than merely illuminating the space. This necessitates attention to factors like positioning light sources to engage with occupants’ eyes at an appropriate level. Installing SMART sensors provides occupants with complete control over their lighting needs.

 

Embracing a Holistic Approach to IEQ

John concludes that IEQ represents a foundation of effective facility management, with far-reaching implications for occupant health, well-being, and productivity. By prioritising strategies to enhance IAQ, thermal comfort, and visual comfort, facility managers can create environments that foster optimal conditions for occupant performance and satisfaction. As the role of facility managers continues to evolve in response to emerging challenges, embracing a holistic approach to IEQ will be essential in shaping healthier, more sustainable built environments for the future.

 

 

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In the realm of facility management, few topics have stirred as much attention and discussion as Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ). IEQ encapsulates various factors such …
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