Building Health Aids COVID-19 Safety, Workers

Two face-masked people doing an elbow bump, with a video conference call onscreen in the background.

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Indoor air quality and ventilation have become a key focus of many businesses as they prepare for their employees to return to work. As they take steps to make the air healthier to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory ailments in their buildings, they’re also finding the enhanced air quality can also improve workers’ productivity.

“I don’t think business people realize the power of buildings to not only keep people safe from disease but to lead to better performance,” Joseph G. Allen, an associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said at the CNBC Workforce Executive Council summit last week. “Greater ventilation leads to significantly better cognitive function performance of employees. It’s good for worker health and productivity.”

Air quality can be improved in any building, older ones included. Allen says it’s important for businesses to maximize the amount of outdoor air entering the building. He recommends air filters be upgraded to MERV 13, which reflects the minimum efficiency reporting value. Many buildings have a MERV 8 filter, which captures about 20% of airborne particles, compared with a MERV 13 filter, capable of capturing 90% or more of those particles, CNBC reports.

Allen’s team at Harvard recently studied air quality on the productivity of employees. They found that workers in better-ventilated spaces with lower particle levels performed significantly better on cognitive function tests than those working in areas where air quality was worse.

“The beautiful thing about all this is that healthy building strategies help protect against infectious disease, but they’re also good for worker health, productivity, and performance,” Allen told Forbes.