It’s Flu Season: Is Your Office Building Healthy?

 
@kelly_sikkema

@kelly_sikkema

 

When you think about flu season you likely stock up on hand-sanitizer and wash your hands more often, but have you considered that the buildings you spend your time in need some consideration too?

If you’ve got a sneezing co-worker, you may break out your disinfecting spray and make sure your personal space stays clean, but what happens when you venture out? Whether you go to a conference room, the break room or even get in an elevator, the conditions of the building as a whole can impact your health.

How the flu spreads

The flu is spread when sick people cough, sneeze or even talk. These germs become airborne and can spread to people up to six feet away.

It’s not enough to encourage people that have the flu to stay home, because it’s possible to contract the virus from someone that does not even know they are sick.

That means to keep your office healthy during flu season, you must look beyond the individuals and consider the building as a whole.

Ventilation

A poorly ventilated building can feel stuffy and unpleasant on a good day, but it the middle of flu season it becomes a hot bed of germs.

In fact, the World Health Organization has defined Sick Building Syndrome as a condition affecting office workers, typically marked by headaches and respiratory problems, attributed to unhealthy or stressful factors in the working environment such as poor ventilation.

Poor ventilation has further been associated with increased absences, decreased productivity, and higher operational costs.*

Temperature Control

Some building managers spend time focusing on thermal comfort, with perhaps a goal of 80% of the building’s occupants feeling satisfied with the building’s temperature.

Beyond comfort, temperature and humidity can have a big impact on health.

When buildings are too warm, there may be an increase of sick building syndrome, negative moods, heart rate, respiratory symptoms, and feelings of fatigue.*

On the flip side, cold buildings have been found to permit virus particles to stay in the air longer, and thus increase the spread of the flu.*

Healthy Buildings = Healthy Employees

Open office designs can be especially susceptible to the flu virus, but projects focusing on healthy offices have found success by adopting methods such as installation of ultraviolet lights, air filters and increasing the amount of fresh air exchange over and beyond what is required by code.**

 

The spread of the flu virus is just one example of how a building’s environment has an impact on overall health and productivity. If you’d like to work toward developing greater building health, I’d suggest leveraging a certification program like BREEAM that aims to optimize building performance.

Please contact me if you’d like to discuss whether a certification project is right for you.

 

*Source: Harvard School of Public Health, 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building

**Source: Bisnow, Deadliest Flu Season In Years Has Open Office Workers On Thin Ice

Julia Craighill

Ensight Consulting, 6911 Maple Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD, 20815