How to Have a Healthy Office (Part 1 of 3): Climate

Last Updated on by Pedram Sadough Moghanlu

Whether you are an officer in care of daily spreadsheets and answering phone calls, or a full-time computer program developer, chances are you spend 80 percent of working time seated.

As previously explained in this website or via endless contents available around the web, sitting for long period of hours is associated with many health problems including but not limited to low back and neck pain, slouching body posture, obesity and lower basic metabolic rate (BMR).

For those working in office environments, recent body of knowledge also hints toward the increasing role of office setting and psychosocial factors in efficiency and health-related issues.

In this series of articles, I aim to discuss the key rules for a healthy office life, with a holistic approach.

In the first part, we’ll review issues regarding the “office climate” and environmental factors that serve as a pre-condition to working in an office and list some useful tips to improve these conditions.

 

1. Lighting and Vision

Without doubt, vision and eyes are the primary and the most point of interaction with outside the world and the specific tasks they must undertake.

Moreover, as “visual display terminals (VDTs)” (PC monitors, smartphones, tablets etc.) has become the norm for performing any task in the offices, the quality and conditions relating to these screens are a legit concern.

Asthenopia (eyestrain), glare, headaches, reduced vigilance and motivation are among the main issues that poor lighting can inflict on your health and morale.

Here are some quick tips to avoid vision problems[1–3].

1. Avoid Direct Lighting.
Always try to avoid direct lighting to a work surface.
When possible, always use indirect lighting (the light must be first reflected from a surface to reach your work surface.
This helps you reduce direct and indirect glare.

2. Matte coverings and opaque surfaces.
Whenever possible, use matte surface coverings for desktop monitors, floor, walls and the ceilings.

3. Use The Ideal Placement of Visual Displays.
The ideal proposed placement of visual displays is : “in front of the observer, at that person’s personal reading distance (usually about half a meter) from the eyes, and at such height that the preferred line of sight (LOS: straight line runs from the object through the pupil) meets the center of the display.”[4]

4. Monitor brightness.
Adjust the monitor brightness to create a uniform level of brightness with the surrounding objects and the ambient light.

There are also issues in lighting that is related to the comfort and productivity of the office staff:

Different times of the day requires its respective level of lighting to accommodate to human circadian rhythm.

The concept of “dynamic lighting” (changing lighting preferences according to the time and task) can be applied in different times of the day to office setting[5]:

Morning

Higher color temperature and brightness to boost activity and energy.

Midday

Lowering tensions and increasing relaxed feeling by reducing brightness and color temperatures.

Afternoon

To combat with the natural tired feeling, increase brightness levels and color temperature.

Evening

For those staying a little bit longer, warmer light can create a pleasant atmosphere.

* There are also issues in lighting that is related to the comfort and productivity of the office staff.
While the underlying mechanism is unknown, a study by de Vries et. al (2018) shows that wall illumination has a positive effect on maintaining workers’ alertness level[6].

While the underlying mechanism is unknown, a study by de Vries et. al (2018) shows that wall illumination has a positive effect on maintaining workers’ alertness level[6].

 

2. Air Conditioning and Temperature

Another important aspect of the “office climate” is the quality of its air and temperature.

Working in very hot or cold office, or similarly where the ambient air is perceived clean or polluted, has a considerable effect on individuals well-being and productivity level.

In fact, in a study by Ali Shah and his colleagues, working 4.5 hours under simulated “best air quality” conditions could raise productivity level 6.5% and decrease Sick Building Syndrome symptoms (to name a few, headache, dizziness, nausea, eye, nose or throat irritation, dry cough, dry or itching skin, difficulty in concentration, fatigue)[7].

It’s maybe quite surprising that offices are produce air pollution levels sometimes 2 to 100 higher than the outdoor air.
Main sources of the pollutants are human activities including cooking, bathing, using tobaccos, building materials, ventilation systems etc. There are also organic sources like molds and fungi.

Although the overall quality of utilities available in the modern offices are incomparable to those of even 20 years ago, there are still confusions and complexities to provide a better office environment.

Given that an average person inhales and exhales a massive 11000 liters of air each day, the importance of indoor air quality cannot be further emphasized.
Also, studies indicate that average time for a HVAC system to pay for itself (via increased productivity) is only 4 months[8].

Tips to provide better climate at the office[9,10]:

* Considering the level of task intensity and normal outfit in office, the temperature between 21-27 °C during summer, and 18-24 °C during winter, is the recommended range.

* Preferred range of humidity is ideally 40% to 50%.

* Get out of suns direct rays.
If shining sun warms the back or sides of the individuals, they should either have the opportunity to move out of the shining zone or alternatively use curtains and shades to lower the direct heat, while benefiting from natural sunlight.

* Ensure that air distribution and pollutant removal is done properly by HVAC system. ASHRAE recommends 8.4 air exchanges for every 24 hours.

* Inspecting HVAC system routinely, replacing water-stained ceiling tiles and carpets, using stone, ceramic or hardwood flooring, proper water proofing, unplugging idle devices, storing paints, solvents, pesticides in closed containers in well-ventilated areas can reduce air pollution substantially.

* Always allow some time for new building materials (paints, plaster, new cables etc.) to off-gas.

* Banning smoking in the workplace and restricting activities such as frying food, could also help lower air-borne particles level.

3. Noise

Noises are unwanted and annoying sounds that makes hearing the intended sounds and voices harder, disrupts one’s concentration, may induce stress and fear or simply impair hearing capability if continues to emit for longer period of times.

In a study by Oldman and Leesman (which resulted in Leesman Index), it was revealed that the noise level is the second most source of dissatisfaction in the office, only fell behind temperature level. Noise reduction programs in the office has been associated with less stress.

Noise has been associated with immense physiological effect- For example, long-term exposure to levels of 85 dB or more during a typical 8-hour workday can damage the eardrums and put people at risk of moderate hearing loss.
In addition to this, it has severe psychological impact which translates into lowered annoyance and irritability level, increased stress, and aggressive behavior.
In a recent study, it has been shown that fewer words were remembered with working high noise compared to low noise and the participants in high noise environment felt more tired than their peers in low noise setting[11].

Some general advice for a “sound” office acoustically[4,9]:

* The acceptable sound level in an office is around 65 dB. For those in the office who need to concentrate on their task for longer duration, it is crucial that the noise level not change dramatically or fluctuate.

* Noise from air conditioning equipment must NOT generate a noise level above 60 dB.

* Replace noisy equipment or devices with quieter ones. Turn down ringer sound level on telephones and cellphones.

* Noise masking: Play music to mask excessive ambient noise. This also helps you to boost your composure level.

Sources:

[1]        Boyce P. Human Factors in Lighting, Third Edition [Internet]. 3rd ed. CRC Press; 2014. Available from: https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9780203426340.

[2]        Aries MBC. Human Lighting Demands, healthy lighting in an office environment [Internet]. Tech. Univ. Eindhoven 2005. 2005. Available from: http://alexandria.tue.nl/extra2/200512454.pdf.

[3]        Anshel J. Visual Ergonomics Handbook. CRC Press; 2005.

[4]        Kroemer AD, H.E. Kroemer K. Office Ergonomics: Ease and Efficiency at Work [Internet]. CRC Press; 2016. Available from: https://www.crcpress.com/Office-Ergonomics-Ease-and-Efficiency-at-Work-Second-Edition/Kroemer-Kroemer/p/book/9781498747943.

[5]        Kitsinelis S. Lighting Sources, Second Edition. 2nd ed. CRC Press; 2015.

[6]        de Vries A, Souman JL, de Ruyter B, et al. Lighting up the office: The effect of wall luminance on room appraisal, office workers’ performance, and subjective alertness. Build. Environ. 2018;142:534–543.

[7]        Shah AA. The effect of physical environment comfort on employees’ performance in office buildings. Lin CSJ, editor. Struct. Surv. [Internet]. 2015;33:294–308. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1108/SS-02-2015-0012.

[8]        Djukanovic R, Wargocki P, Fanger P. Cost-Benefit Analysis of Improved Air Quality in an Office Building. Energy. 2002;808–813.

[9]        Hedge A. ERGONOMIC WORKPLACE DESIGN FOR HEALTH, WELLNESS, AND PRODUCTIVITY. 1st ed. CRC Press; 2017.

[10]      Joshi SM. The sick building syndrome. Indian J. Occup. Environ. Med. [Internet]. 2008;12:61–64. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20040980.

[11]      Jahncke H, Hygge S, Halin N, et al. Open-plan office noise: Cognitive performance and restoration. J. Environ. Psychol. [Internet]. 2011;31:373–382. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494411000429.

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