With COVID-19 cases still high and the threat of a worse-than-normal flu season looming, employers will be keen to do all they can to look after the health of their staff this winter.
As workers make a gradual return to the office, the amount of illnesses in circulation will inevitably rise and, after a relatively healthy winter last year due to lockdown, we’ve been warned to expect coughs, colds and the flu to return with a vengeance this year due to the increased social contact.
The Royal College of General Practitioners has warned of a particularly difficult flu season, due to people’s lack of immunity¹. They believe cases of flu in the community were around 95% lower than normal last season, meaning people’s immunity will have waned, making them more susceptible.
There are a number of things people can do to help minimise the risk – with hand gel and hand washing still remaining the most effective methods for killing germs – but a healthy office is dependent on more than this alone. Monitoring the quality of the air in the workplace can play a vital role in keeping germs at bay and preventing them from spreading throughout your staff, with humidity levels proving particularly important.
Scientists at Yale University have proven that humidity levels play a key role in how easily viruses like flu and COVID-19 can circulate and are warning that humidity levels in offices and public spaces could play a key role in keeping them under control this winter².
Their research has shown that humidity levels of between 40-60% are ideal for slowing the transmission of viruses. With this level of moisture in the air, any germs that are expelled in a cough or a sneeze tend to fall quickly to the floor, whereas in drier conditions the germs hang around in the air for a lot longer – sometimes many hours – making it easier for others to then breathe them in.
Drier air also affects the amount of mucus in the nose and sinuses which, as it gets drier, is less effective at trapping germs and infections.
A separate study, by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in America, found that an hour after being released in a room at a relative humidity of 23% or less, 70-77% of flu particles retained their infectious capacity, but if humidity was increased to 43%, only 14% of the virus particles were capable of infecting cells³.
Elsewhere, a petition launched by Dr Stephanie Taylor, an infection control consultant at Harvard Medical School, to urge the World Health Organisation to establish global guidelines for indoor humidity has received thousands of signatures⁴.
Monitoring humidity with smart sensors is one of the quickest and easiest ways to ensure your office environment is as healthy as possible.
Leading UK-based smart sensor manufacturer Pressac’s new air quality sensor monitors humidity as well as other air quality indicators such as particulate matter, carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds. The sensor data can be sent to cloud software, to display the real-time data, or directly to a building management system to automate heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
Jamie Burbidge, the company’s product manager, said: “Never has there been a more important time to keep track of the humidity levels in your workplace, as this research shows. COVID has placed a renewed emphasis on employee safety and comfort. Adding sensors to your buildings can make this much easier to keep track of and control.”
Other simple moves that have been proven to improve air quality within a workplace include keeping windows and doors open where possible, as air flow is one of the key factors in maintaining optimum humidity levels.
Ensuring air conditioning units are well maintained and functioning optimally is also important to ensure the maximum number of air exchanges.
A cheaper, but still effective, method of improving air quality is to introduce some greenery to your workplace. Plants can help to reduce CO2 levels and increase oxygen levels, while also introducing a sense of calm and wellbeing.
Pressac is a leading sensor technology partner for smart buildings, occupancy monitoring, indoor environment monitoring and energy monitoring. See pressac.com for more details.
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