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Innovations towards a healthy building

Innovations towards a healthy building

Back in 1986, the concept of ‘sick building syndrome’ was coined by the World Health Organisation in recognition of a building’s impact on its occupants. Sick building syndrome includes symptoms such as headaches, blocked nose, wheezing, itchy skin, rashes, sore eyes, tiredness and difficulty concentrating.1

Lost productivity, due largely to absenteeism, costs Australian businesses billions of dollars every year. A healthy building design will improve employee health and help reduce absenteeism. Workplace design company Evoke Projects examines the latest enablers and innovations towards healthier buildings.

What is a healthy building design and why does it matter?

Harvard researchers at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health identified the nine elements of a healthy building as:

  • ventilation control
  • moisture levels
  • natural lighting
  • presence of pests
  • temperature regulation
  • occupant security
  • noise levels
  • air quality
  • water quality.2

As well as reducing absenteeism, a well-designed office fit-out is essential for COVID-safe workplaces. Infogrid, a UK provider of sensors and devices for smart buildings conducted research into UK employees’ opinions on returning to the physical workplace. It showed:

  • 50% of employees are concerned about returning to the physical workplace.
  • Of those who aren’t concerned, 60% said it was because their employer had made their workplace safe.
  • Employees said regular cleaning has the biggest impact on how safe they feel to return to the office (73%). Other popular measures included limiting the number of people in spaces (69%), and improved air quality to reduce the spread of COVID-19 (61%).
  • More than half said that the healthiness of their workplace impacts their mental (54%) and physical (56%) wellbeing.3

Technology innovation has improved Building Management Systems (BMS)

According to the Australian Government definition, a building management system (BMS) provides automated control of energy efficiency and occupant comfort from a single digital interface. It can monitor and control electrical and mechanical services, such as heating, ventilation, air-conditioning (HVAC) and lighting.4 Wireless technology has made BMS systems more accessible and affordable for Australian businesses.

A new office fit-out is a great opportunity to install an up-to-date BMS. For example, the Infogrid BMS uses sensors to monitor elements such as air quality, water safety, occupancy, cleanliness and occupant feedback. Infogrid’s AI derives insight from the raw data generated by the sensors, making it easy for companies to identify issues and take timely action. Companies receive a healthy building score, a single metric that makes it even easier to understand, measure and improve.5

Another solution is Johnson Controls OpenBlue Healthy Building system, which includes a combination of hardware and software – such as smart equipment, digital sensors, security systems, cameras, monitors, powerful analytics and dashboards, infection control and other connected devices – as well as a mobile app to manage office spaces and occupant experiences.6 7

Building rating and certification programs

Building programs such as the WELL Building Standard drive workplace designs for better health and well-being, reduced stress, higher motivation and productivity. WELL buildings support our physical and mental health through 10 core concepts: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Mind and Community.

Office design tips for a healthier building

1. Improve air quality
According to the Harvard Business Review, an analysis of sick leave data for more than 3,000 workers across 40 buildings found that 57% of all sick leave was attributable to poor ventilation.8

The WELL Building Standard recommends carbon dioxide measurement as a guide towards general pollutant levels. Of course, opening windows will naturally freshen up the indoor air and reduce carbon dioxide levels. In addition, advanced air filtration systems can be installed during a new office fit-out such as a displacement ventilation system (where old air is taken by vents in the ceiling while fresh air is delivered through the floor).

Indoor air quality is affected by furniture, flooring and carpets so check material safety data sheets for volatile organic compounds, such as formaldehyde.

New innovations, including bipolar ionization and ultraviolet technology, are also worth considering for indoor air disinfection when undertaking your next office refurbishment.

2. Let there be light
Windows and skylights should be incorporated into the office design wherever possible. Natural light reduces the likelihood of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition that causes depression in workers who don’t get enough natural light during their day. Blinds can assist with reducing glare and heat gain when required.

3. Acoustic sound damping
Soundproof windows and materials with low reverberation are the key to good room acoustics. Acoustic damping is worthwhile in walls and ceilings. For floors, vinyl tiles have better acoustics than ceramic or stone tiles. Partitions help with acoustics and also improve privacy and social distancing.

4. Use safe materials throughout the office fit-out
By-products from building materials used during an office fit-out or refurbishment are an important consideration for a WELL designed workplace. Look for products that minimise volatile organic compound content limits, formaldehyde emission levels and the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
 
Effective cleaning solutions can be harsh so consider using non-toxic disinfectants that are effective against COVID-19.

5. Biophilic design
Biophilic office design gives a boost to mental health. Natural plants are visually appealing, calming, absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Nature-resembling colours such as green, blue and brown can positively impact staff well-being.

For healthy workplace design ideas, please call Evoke Projects on 1300 720 692.

1. https://www.smartspaces.app/blog/workspace-technology-value-of-healthy-buildings/
2. https://facilityexecutive.com/2021/03/healthy-buildings-disease-fighting-productivity-boosting/
3. https://www.hsmsearch.com/Infogrid-launches-Healthy-Building-System
4. https://www.energy.gov.au/business/equipment-and-technology-guides/building-management-systems
5. Infogrid launches Healthy Building System
6. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/johnson-controls-launches-openblue-healthy-buildings-to-ensure-safer-buildings-as-people-return-to-work-301118976.html
7. https://www.johnsoncontrols.com/en_au
8. https://hbr.org/2020/04/what-makes-an-office-building-healthy

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