Research illuminates the role of air quality in worker’s physical and cognitive health

A workspace with an iMac and a laptop near a windowA new study carried out by a team at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health is working to show the negative impacts on human health that are associated with inadequate ventilation and air quality in buildings.

After a series of papers published in 2015, this new study will look further into proving the influence indoor air quality has on job performance. In the first phases of the study, 24 participants worked for six days in a simulated office while researchers regulated the room’s concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Ventilation rates and carbon dioxide levels were set to compare conditions of well-ventilated spaces to conventional office environments.

Nine areas of cognitive function were tested among participants, including focused-activity levels, information usage, and strategy – all of which were significantly affected by poor ventilation. Notably, crisis response scores were up to 131% higher in offices that were very well ventilated.

Other studies conducted in the USA have examined the cost benefits of improving indoor air quality in office buildings, including the 2011 study from scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Environmental Protection Agency. Findings from this study estimated potential economic benefits of improved air quality at around $20 billion. Similarly, at the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, they found that doubling the ventilation rates had a small cost implication for employers of around $40 per person, yet can increase the productivity of employees by $6,500 a year.

The team of experts from Harvard Chan School has turned their research into a checklist for homeowners to reference when considering how they can create a healthy home environment, two of these key foundations are cited to be ventilation and indoor air quality. To read the full checklist click here:

Air quality should be a very important consideration when it comes to creating a healthy indoor environment, both at work and in the home. In buildings where there are lower ventilation rates, air quality can become unpleasant and unhealthy. We spend 90% of our time indoors so the air we breathe should be one of our top priorities. Properly installed effective ventilation can help to maintain good indoor air quality by preventing the build-up of pollutants in the home. To read a full guide on ventilation, visit: and for more information on ventilation providers, visit:

This article originally appeared on The Harvard Gazette on February 14th 2018


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