Health impacts in the workplace

When we think about ‘healthy’ workplaces, we often jump to health and fitness, and things such as corporate wellness programs. Whilst these are essential, there are a number of things that can impact our health and wellbeing on a day to day basis at work.

The Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) refers to a number of measurable factors in the space you are working in:
1. Air temperature and quality – we work best under certain temperatures, and workplaces are required to deliver a comfortable environment. We’ve all worked or been into places where there are strong drafts from vents, the air feels heavy or humid, or in other instances it feels very fresh.

We breath about 7 litres of air a minute. If you imagine drinking a very large bottle of water, you would want to make sure it is clean. We need to think of air in the same way. There are lots of toxins in the air you might be unaware of, such as fumes from your computer and printing equipment, hidden mould and cleaning products. Some paints and furniture also off-gas toxins into the air. Over time these can contribute to respiratory and other illnesses.

2. Light levels and daylight – there are standard light (or lux) levels for various spaces to make sure we don’t get eye strain or headaches. But it is really important to get a dose of daylight, even if you don’t get natural light at your desk head outside during a break. You also need to minimise artificial light at night, more research is showing how light impacts our circadian rhythm.

3. Acoustics – noise levels are measured in decibels (dB) and various workplaces have different acoustics standards. You don’t want a space too quiet, nor too loud. Distractions can occur from people talking, answering phones, exiting meeting rooms etc and these can impact your day to day work. When I’m in a noisy space I plug in headphones and listen to nature sounds.

4. Mobility – do you sit all day every day? Getting up and moving around during the day is so important. You don’t have to have a sit-stand desk, small efforts like central printing stations, or central bins in offices (as opposed to individual bins under desks) can get people moving (as well as reduce waste). In addition, facilities where you can shower after riding to work or going to the gym encourage healthier activities.

5. Greenery – More and more research is emerging on the health benefits of accessing nature regularly. Even a picture of a plant is better than staring at a blank wall. Indoor plants can be used to provide this connection, and some also help clean toxins from the air.

As well as these areas, getting enough daily exercise, meditation, sleep and healthy eating are all imperative to ensure we live long, healthy and happy lives.

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Dr Sam Hall

Dr Sam Hall

Sam is the founder of Spaces Alive. She's an advocate for re-imaging our cities and buildings to prepare for the future of work and study.