Human behaviours (e.g. the use of perfumes and cleaning products), office furniture and building materials are sometimes a source of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). VOCs are many and their effect on health can vary, depending on the contaminant (from causing respiratory system irritation to cancer). Measuring for Total VOCs (TVOC) as a whole and identifying the VOCs with the largest concentrations, can give an indication of where the problem is - it is not an expensive test.
Ensuring that the ventilation system is on (and working properly) can dilute the concentration of these contaminants, and proper selection of building materials can limit their release into the building, e.g. if the office is being repainted or refurbished, selecting materials that do not have a high VOC emission rate and flushing the building should reduce the VOC concentration levels.
The location of the building can indicate what contaminants to look for: e.g. if is next to a busy road, measuring for nitrous oxides (NO, NO2) and particulates (PM2.5 and PM10) should be considered. If the building is on a Radon (Rn) area, checking Rn levels in the building and investigating ventilation solutions should be a priority, as exposure to Rn, which is naturally released from the ground, can cause lung cancer.
Indoor environmental quality (IEQ) looks beyond IAQ and considers the wellbeing of people in a holistic way. IEQ looks not only at air quality, but also includes lighting, acoustic and thermal comfort, and some wellbeing standards also take nourishment, water quality, ergonomics, electromagnetic frequency levels and building aesthetics into consideration.
In summary, approximately 90% of the associated costs of a building are staff related. IEQ not only affects people’s health and productivity but also has an impact on the building management, e.g. it makes it a desirable space to sell or rent, or it requires extensive and costly investigations to rectify. Therefore, providing good IEQ at work should be a priority for employers.