Clearing the air

Once largely ignored or misunderstood, indoor air quality in buildings and facilities is now firmly on the radar for the cleaning industry as a result of the highly transmissible nature of the COVID-19 virus.

Of all the wake-up calls that COVID-19 has sounded for cleaners and facility managers during the pandemic, one is really starting to be heard – the importance of indoor air quality (IAQ).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently formally recognised that COVID-19 is spread mainly through airborne transmission.

This acknowledgment has underlined the importance of proper ventilation and filtration of buildings, including the need for high standards of carpet care and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) maintenance.

In addition to the COVID-19 threat, another significant factor with IAQ is its impact on workforce productivity. A white paper released by GJK Facility Services notes that poor IAQ is estimated to cost the Australian economy about $12 billion annually in lost productivity.

The flip side is that considerable research suggests that people are healthier and more productive in environments with good IAQ.

Elias Stamas, CEO of GJK Facility Services, says that in the past IAQ may have been undervalued by some building owners because it is “often hard to smell or see the difference between clean air and poorer-quality air”.

“Unless a chemical cleaning product or fragrance has just been used, or there are evident air pollutants, facility users cannot immediately notice the difference,” he says.

“Studies show us, however, that constant exposure to an environment with low indoor air quality can take a toll on workers’ health.”

Bridget Gardner, director of HPC Solutions, says multiple studies have revealed that improving IAQ can result in worker productivity gains of 4 per cent to 10 per cent.

She says a mistake people often make with regard to IAQ is focusing only on the structure of a building, such as ventilation or the content of materials that are used in its construction. Yet they ignore the impact that cleaning and maintenance can have on IAQ once they move in.

“They don’t realise how critical it is to maintain the building with good cleaning practices,” she says.

Cleaners can play a dual role in improving IAQ, she adds, by efficiently removing dust and mould pollutants from a building, and by not contributing to poor IAQ via cleaning and disinfectant products that emit chemical pollutants.