Office air you breathe is literally making you dumber, Harvard study finds
An excuse for not finishing that project?
We all imagine the office to be the one place in our lives where we can get actual shit done.
Naturally, this can differ depending on the type of office environment you have. Some offices look like fancy lounges, others feel like cramped and sterile boxes. Either way, the office is where you have to be productive, whether you like it or not.
But if you live in a country where pollution levels aren’t exactly under control (which is almost everywhere), it’s not surprising that the air quality in your office is probably worse than it is outside, especially if it doesn’t have the right ventilation. This brings with it a whole host of health implications, mainly respiratory in nature.
Adding fuel to the fire is a new Harvard University study, which found that the air you breathe in the office is literally making you dumb and dumber.
More specifically, the study posits that the polluted air in our offices slows down our cognitive ability to stay focused on a task and handle distractions in our surroundings.
Researchers observed hundreds of office workers spanning across 42 offices in the U.S., the UK, Thailand, China, India, and Mexico. The average age of participants was 33 years old, seeing that this demographic is the most vulnerable group – either very young or very old.
Each office worker in the study was given an air sensor, which measures carbon dioxide and particulate matter (tiny debris in the air), and had them placed on their respective work desks. Each of the workers was then tasked to complete a series of cognitive tests over a one-year period.
Combining data retrieved from the individual air sensors and the results from the cognitive tests, researchers were able to find a direct link – the higher the pollution in the worker’s surrounding, the lower their score on cognitive tests.
“This wasn’t a study of bad buildings. We didn’t go out and find the worst buildings in the world and find a result that the really bad buildings are bad for your health,” assured Joseph Allen, associate professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health.
“The office air you breathe is having an immediate impact on your cognitive function. This means even good buildings have room to improve.”
Even the ‘golden standard’ of acceptable air quality (air with fine particulate matter below 1,000 parts per million) will still cause some sort of cognitive impairment, researchers say.
According to study lead Jose Guillermo Cedeno Laurent, even if a worker is so engrossed in a task, dirty air will make them look noticeably slower than someone working in an environment with cleaner air. Add a sudden distraction into the mix, like a phone call, and it’ll be much harder for said worker to continue their original task efficiently.
There’s a good fix for this problem, but it isn’t easy to implement.
The study says that indoor air quality can ‘easily’ be fixed by bringing in more air from the outside, which reduces the levels of carbon dioxide inside the office. But, and there’s a big but, the building that houses the office needs to have high-grade MERV13 filters installed in its skeleton.
If that sounds like gibberish, I don’t blame you. MERV, which stands for ‘minimum efficiency reporting value’, is a rating system used to determine how effective a particulate filter is at doing its job – filtering particles in the air. A MERV13 filter can trap at least 90 percent of particles sized between 1.0 and 10 microns, and over 75 percent of particles sized from 0.3 to 1.0 microns.
Of course, it’s costly to replace existing filters in a building, and it’s not such an easy task for building managers to handle in a moment’s whim. Another way to at least reduce the risk is to make sure the building occupancy isn’t over capacity. The more humans you have in one floor, the more carbon dioxide there is swishing around in the air.
It’s also up to the workers themselves to demand this kind of air quality improvement in the office. But of course, it all boils down to the willingness of employers and building managers, as well as available funds.
News Credit: sea.mashable.com
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