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Humidity: the surprising factor that can impact employee wellbeing

Marie Bannister
March 26, 2020

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Health is always a priority, but even more so due to recent events. The Coronavirus pandemic has led many, including employees and employers to face unforeseen challenges including working remotely. As we sit at home, hyperaware of our indoor environment, we have experienced first hand what poor indoor air quality can do to our productivity and comfort. It is fair to expect an increase in people’s expectations. Returning to work, university and school, employers may be met with more demands. As people have gained more knowledge of the impact of indoor air quality, they could have higher expectations. 

Thankfully, the use of technological advances has allowed most of us to work remotely with relative ease. Technology can also do a lot more. As wellbeing is in such sharp focus, let’s take this time to reflect and prepare for the future. We can make sure our offices, schools and workplaces are equipped to keep our employees healthy and safe. Good indoor air promotes productivity, reduced sick leave and better morale. 

Minimize sick leave and grumpy employees 

We cannot fix the Coronavirus outbreak, but we can help ensure the workplace promotes productivity for when employees return to work and children return to school.

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Humidity levels in the workplace are often a problem because it has knock-on-effects on employee and student wellbeing. Not to mention potentially increasing sick leave. 

A recent Yale University study has investigated the way in which low humidity can help spread the flu virus. A higher chance of contracting the flu could result in more employee sick leave, not only affecting the bottom line, but the wellbeing of your staff. 

The latest humidity research

The importance of flu virus transmission and humidity is well established. Research for the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention studied flu virus lifespan after simulated coughs. At 23% humidity,  >70% of flu virus particles could cause an infection. At 43% relative humidity, as low as 14% of flu virus particles were capable of infecting. They concluded that healthy humidity levels decreased the percentage of flu virus spread. 

There are opportunities for improvement with these findings. Simple fixes to improve the humidity in densely populated areas such as schools or offices could make a big impact.

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Similarly, Yale University researchers found that low humidity decreased resistance against influenza infection. The research suggested that the natural barrier function was impaired in these conditions. 

In an interview, the lead researcher explained that our bodies have a natural way of removing inhaled particles from our airways, but in low humidity, we are simply less effective at doing this, which leaves us at risk of illness. Consider this research in relation to the office or school environment. Both densely populated spaces have a higher probability of flu infection, simply from the number of people. Ensuring the humidity is healthy could potentially help prevent this. 

Humidity is not the only factor that impacts the spread of the flu virus, but it is a factor we can control, at least inside our workplaces with effective heating and ventilation systems and data that helps us optimize the use of them. Using Airthings for Business, you can gain full visibility into the air in all your spaces, including humidity, CO2 and radon levels. You are able to adjust ventilation accordingly before humidity levels dip too low or rise too high, or simply connect via API to automate the entire process. That way you’re using energy only when you need to. 

Healthy humidity levels in the workplace

Healthy indoor humidity levels are between 30-50% according to the Environmental Protection Agencies recommendations. Humidity levels fluctuate based on daily activities, the seasons, indoor ventilation and more. The problem is finding and maintaining the right balance for the size of your workplace. Too much humidity can cause mold growth. Too little humidity can, as research results indicate, increase the risk of contracting the flu.

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Automate ventilation based on current air quality data to improve health and save costs

Particularly in the office environment, employees will only notice when the humidity levels get very bad. We know we have high humidity once we have mold growth on our window frames. We know we have low humidity if our skin is becoming itchy and dry, or possibly if we have contracted the flu. At this point, it is too late. Using an integrated system that works with your existing heating and ventilation system via an open API, will prevent the issue from getting that far and keep you within the recommended 30-50%. 

Show employees that you care about their health when they return to the office

Employees working remotely has its downsides, but it also gives us time to reflect on any areas for improvement. When we all return to work, let us make sure that the environment is as healthy as can be, to promote productivity and employee wellbeing. Air quality monitors can reveal a need for better ventilation or improved humidity levels. When this happens, an integrated system means that you can access all the information in one place, and adjust accordingly. You can improve the overall air quality for everyone. 

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