Air quality in workspaces

September 2019 | News

Air quality is one of the ten parameters used by the Well v2 standard to ensure health and wellbeing in workspaces. Through the use of various strategies, which include reducing formaldehyde to less than 27 ppb, and separating, via automatically closing doors and/or vestibules, bathrooms, kitchens, cleaning and chemical storage rooms, rooms with high-use printers and copiers, and high humidity areas from all frequently used adjoining spaces, the standard strives for an innovative working environment that cares for the people who make use of it.

If we spend close to 90% of our time in enclosed spaces, of which roughly a third is spent at work, the creation of sustainable, healthy workplaces is essential. The very construction of the building, the layout of the space and furniture, and the way of organising work all have an effect in an environment in which, alongside aspects such as water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, the mind, and community, air quality plays a fundamental role.  In fact, non-existent or poor air treatment may harm workers' health.

The indoor air quality of buildings depends on variables such as compartmentation, the design of the ventilation/air conditioning systems, their operating conditions and upkeep, and the presence of sources of pollution. That's why, to ensure health and wellbeing, it is essential to improve filtration and ventilation, as well as monitoring and measuring indoor air. Another relevant factor is thermal comfort, which is based on the balance between physical activity, clothing, relative humidity, temperature, and air speed. Appropriate ventilation and temperature for the work being carried out and the space where it is done will increase user comfort and performance.

The materials used to construct the building, as well as its setting - rural, industrial, or urban-, all directly affect air quality in the spaces which are mechanically ventilated. In such spaces, the air is a mix of outside air, which enters, in a controlled manner, through ventilation and/or air conditioning systems or freely, via door and windows, and the recirculated indoor air. 

To ensure good air quality inside the building, it is important to be aware whether it is an enclosed office, where it is easier to operate customised ventilation/air conditioning systems, or an open space or separated by partitions. In addition to proper operation of diffusers and returns, which ensures that clean air circulates through the whole building before being extracted, it is essential that the system can be adjusted for summer and winter.

Regardless of the mechanical ventilation and air conditioning systems, it is always advisable to allow for natural ventilation through properly placed windows that are easily opened and are adequately protected from the sun. In fact, workspaces that do not feature natural ventilation and are kept sealed to boost the performance of the air conditioning system are more at risk from pollutants.

One of the most important basic organic compounds in the chemical industry is formaldehyde, a VOC which acts as a colourless gas at room temperature.  It is present in our immediate surroundings in materials such as wood finishes, upholstery, and construction materials for walls and ceilings. It has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer has harmful to health, even though its use is not currently a real danger.

Removing formaldehyde from its furniture is one of Actiu's main goals, in line with its wellbeing and sustainability values and the WELL v2 standard which penalises its use. For that reason, the company now manufactures all products with MFC boards 100% free from this toxic agent. This is a pioneering measure in Europe, which is also a significant area of differentiation for the firm over its competition, as it is the only manufacturer that includes it in its whole range of melamines as standard.

The measure is in response to the firm’s presence in the U.S., where, since 2019, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has mandated the use of certified 0% formaldehyde particleboards (fibreboard, MDF,...). This is currently being implemented in the U.S., the world's most competitive market where compliance with this regulation is critical. However, Actiu, which already boasts certification guaranteeing the quality of its fibreboard and medium-density boards, has decided to standardise all the mMFC board it uses as 0% formaldehyde.

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