The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a renewed focus on wellness in the workplace, helping to replace absenteeism with presenteeism as one of HR’s biggest bugbears. But more importantly for public health, it has sparked a drive towards indoor air quality standards in countries around the world.
After spending years designing regulations around food hygiene, sanitation systems, water systems and other health and safety-related hazards, legislators are now turning their attention to airborne viruses and the many other aspects of poor air quality that lead to ‘sick building syndrome’.
In the UK, existing regulation on indoor quality is set out under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Act of 2002, but advocacy groups say that this is outdated, and in need of an update, and that authorities should avail of the “opportunity to take concerted action on tackling toxic air within workplaces throughout the UK”.
India’s National Green Tribunal has urged lawmakers to devise and implement regulations around indoor air quality, which, they say, is far more dangerous to human health than is breathing in the air outdoors – quite a statement given outdoor air pollution in the world’s second-most populous country was blamed for causing 1.6 million deaths in 2019.
And while the US Environmental Protection Agency does not officially regulate air quality in buildings – yet – it strongly encourages activity to monitor indoor air quality and offers comprehensive advice on strategies to manage it.
Data-driven indoor air quality standards
Supporting this drive towards the regulation of indoor air quality in workplaces and other buildings is the increasing inclusion of data-driven indoor air quality standards in building health and sustainability certification.
IoT technology such as our own indoor air quality monitoring solution provides building managers with a set of data on factors such as CO2, PM 2.5s, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Temperature and Humidity, all of which can impact staff wellbeing.
The data sets are used to support applications for wellbeing and sustainability certification – and the insights that they bring can help companies continually improve the quality of the air within the workplace, and consequently, the health, wellbeing and productivity of employees.
RESET® is one such set of standards, assessment tools and services which helps building managers and other stakeholders make their workplaces smarter, safer and more sustainable by collecting and continuously monitoring accurate and reliable data through smart sensors.
It is the world’s first sensor and performance-driven programme for the built environment, and building managers use it, as well as other building certification standards such as LEED, WELL and GRESB, to demonstrate their green credentials.
‘Increased visibility will begin to affect air quality regulations’
The organisation’s president, Stanton Wong, says full regulation on indoor air quality is far from mainstream today. But he reckons a sea change is on the horizon.
“Moving forward, regulations around indoor air quality will be more ubiquitous because there is increased visibility around the topic. With increased visibility, there will also be increased interest, which will begin to affect regulations,” says Mr Wong.
“The big push for indoor air quality regulation will be two-fold: concern over future viral pandemics and their impact on human health, and climate change. During Covid-19, most government regulations were momentarily set in place to establish extreme amounts of fresh air, which might logically make sense from a technical perspective of removing the virus from the space, but did not make any operating sense because there was nobody in those buildings.
“With dual considerations for healthy indoor spaces and lowering carbon usage, regulations will focus on the intersection between air quality and energy,” he adds.
Effective pieces of research
Mr Wong has seen interest in air quality soar since his organisation’s early days, and he says that the Covid-19 pandemic was the primary catalyst.
“When the RESET® Air Standard was first established, there was very little interest in air quality because as a health metric, it was very hard to tie to ROI for most indoor spaces. One of the most effective pieces of research for helping industry acknowledge the role air quality plays in health has been the Harvard study linking air quality to productivity and performance, but to get concrete ROI numbers out of it is still difficult.
“The initial interest in data on air quality largely came from multinational companies with offices in China after learning about how bad outdoor air pollution was in the form of PM2.5. Our goal for establishing the standard was to highlight that indoor air quality, subject to additional factors such as toxic VOCs, can be significantly worse than outdoor air quality and that to build awareness and visibility of the problem, there should be indoor air quality monitoring, not just outdoor air quality monitoring.
“At this point, there was still little interest globally, especially in the Western world, as outdoor air quality was never seen as a problem. That is, until Covid-19. Once people realised that the virus was being transmitted in indoor spaces, indoor air quality officially became a global health issue.”
A benchmark for air quality standards
Thus began the drive towards regulation, and Mr Wong says that standards and certifications will have a massive role to play in their development, as just as in other regulated industries, they help promote best practice, provide duty-holders with a roadmap for implementation, and provide a benchmark for regulators to work from. For indoor air quality, smart sensors and the accurate data they collect are the bedrock for standards and certification bodies such as RESET®.
“RESET® believed that for indoor air quality to become important, it required more visibility and accessibility. Therefore, the best practice was to have systems in place to automatically collect high quality data in a standardised way. Since every building and space is different, the data is extremely valuable for optimising for solutions. Additionally, the data can be used for reporting, automation, and awareness building,” says Mr Wong.
An ecosystem for continuous monitoring
“When the RESET® Air Standard was first established, there was no ecosystem for continuous monitoring. Indoor air quality consisted mainly of one-off spot tests and solutions that could not be measured over time.
“The reason why continuous monitoring of indoor air quality was most accessible in China initially was because China was the only country that had hardware and software solutions to implement continuous monitoring of indoor air quality. The development of the hardware and software solutions were heavily influenced by RESET® Standard requirements.
“When interest around indoor air quality began to expand globally, the RESET® Air Standard helped to establish a baseline of requirements for data quality that targeted the hardware, software, and installation implementations. This made communication between clients and solution providers significantly easier and drove development of hardware and software solutions for monitoring,” says Mr Wong.
A breath of fresh air for the build environment
As a leading solution provider in indoor air quality monitoring, ZiggyTec is proud to be a RESET®-accredited data provider and we congratulate RESET® and similar organisations for everything they are doing to help effect the coming wave of regulation within the sector.
Standards providers and regulators exist to ensure those involved in economic activity are acting in the best interests of their customers, their staff and their environments, and the public at large, and it is a great thing too. It is great to know that the water we pour from taps has been treated to certain standards, making it safe for us to drink. Or that the sandwich we buy for lunch has been prepared in a clean and hygienic kitchen, with safe, fresh materials.
It might have taken a global pandemic to focus minds on a long-standing health and safety concern, but if the result is widespread regulation of indoor air quality, it will represent a breath of fresh air for the built environment and all those who work in it.
Learn more about the fantastic work that RESET® is doing in helping built environments become healthier and more sustainable here.
Book a call with ZiggyTec to discuss your indoor air quality monitoring requirements here.