The health of building occupants is vital to any organisation’s profit and performance. In fact, a recent survey revealed sick staff cost UK firms more than £77 billion each year in lost productivity. Whether it is temperature, humidity, CO2, light or noise, sick building syndrome (SBS) consists of a range of factors that negatively affect a building occupant’s physical or mental health.
While SBS first became prevalent and gained notoriety in schools and offices in the 1970s, the solution for the most part has been to ensure new building architectural designs mitigate SBS risk. However, with more than 500,000 national heritage buildings listed in the UK, many of which are still used for commercial purposes, building managers are turning towards smart technologies to improve the well-being of occupants as well as how their buildings operate.
Connected HVAC controls
The combination of rising property costs and historically protected buildings means many buildings are being used differently to their original purpose. Although converted warehouses or factories might make for trendy office space, the issue of poor indoor air quality is likely to arise due to flaws in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Such defects result in fluctuations in room temperature, airborne contaminants such as dust, carpet fibres and fungal spores, and low humidity. What’s more, pollutants including cleaning products, ozone from photocopiers and printers, and carbon monoxide, can also permeate throughout office airways to make staff sick.
Thus, a good first step to tackling SBS is to implement a connected solution that helps building managers proactively monitor and improve air quality. By collecting and processing real-time data generated from HVAC systems, building managers not only reduce the incidence of SBS but also sustain the high performance of air handling equipment, pre-empt maintenance and avoid costly system failure and downtime.
Smart spatial sensors
Should SBS continue to persist, the best approach is for building managers to find the root cause and eliminate it. But with an office space sometimes being across multiple floors or various sites, how can building managers find the proverbial needle in the haystack?
By leveraging the power of the Internet of Things (IoT), building managers can accesses data gathered by occupancy sensors installed anywhere within a building so they can gain a more accurate picture of where, when, and how building spaces are used at any given time. With some solutions providing detailed, information-rich dashboards and even utilisation maps, building managers can identify and predict SBS-prone spaces and have actionable insights on how best to address it. For example, regulating foot traffic in spaces that are being over-utilised to prioritise cleaning and maintenance schedules while also improving occupant experiences
Occupant mobile applications
Finally, while most SBS remedies centre on physical health, it is equally important for building managers to ensure the mental well-being on occupants are top-of-mind. Building occupants long have grappled with whom to call when their work area is too cold, dark or noisey. By integrating solutions directly with occupant’s mobile devices, users now can have direct control over their own individual comfort levels.
For occupants, introducing a mobile application allows for them to quickly and easily communicate discomforts or distractions to prompt real-time adjustments instead of the more time-consuming process of seeking out a building manager. Conversely, building managers benefit from immediate insight into where and how comfortable occupants are so they can make adjustments more quickly and easily in the hope of alleviating staff for unnecessary mental strain.
Only by integrating with fully featured smart, connected technologies can facilities managers truly improve how their buildings operate as well as the experiences of occupants. From replacing air treatment units to getting real-time occupant feedback, these simple solutions allow building maintenance to have a central and transparent view of their entire building – curing SBS once and for all.