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New research shows air pollution might make you bad at your job

Fine particles can go deep into your lungs.
Fine particles can go deep into your lungs.

In 2011, researchers at UC San Diego and Columbia University were the first to demonstrate a link between air pollution and reduced productivity among outdoor agricultural workers.

Now those researchers are back with a new study, entitled “Particulate Pollution and the Productivity of Pear Packers.”

The study shows, for the first time, a significant link between air pollution and the productivity of indoor workers.

The pollutant in question is fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. It’s notable for its tiny size (less than 1/30th the width of a human hair), which allows it to infiltrate deep into your lungs and potentially even your bloodstream, where it can cause all sorts of health problems.

The authors note that PM2.5 can easily enter buildings: “Unlike other pollutants, which either remain outside or rapidly break down once indoors, going inside may do little to reduce one’s exposure to PM2.5.”

To figure out how this affected indoor workers, the authors drew on data from an indoor pear-packing factory in northern California.

“We focused on pear packing for this study since it was located near an air pollution monitor and paid workers piece rate, which allowed us to measure individual worker productivity on a daily level,” author Joshua Graff Zivin told me.

What they found was that every 10-microgram per cubic meter increase in PM2.5 levels decreased worker productivity by 0.6%, as measured by the number pear boxes packed by each worker.

Since workers were paid piecemeal, this translated to a decrease of roughly 41 cents per hour, per 10 micrograms of PM2.5 relationship between worker productivity and air pollution.

Moreover, the effect increased at higher PM2.5 levels: levels between 15 and 20 micrograms reduced earnings by $0.53 per hour, levels between 20 and 25 micrograms decrease earnings by $1.03 per hour, and when levels exceed 25 micrograms/cubic meter earnings shrink by $1.88 per hour.

One key point is that these levels are all well below current U.S. air quality standards for PM2.5, which stand at 35 micrograms/m3. The U.S. didn’t even start regulating this pollutant until 1997.

Across the U.S., PM2.5 levels routinely cross this 35 microgram threshold every day. Airnow.gov, an EPA website that tracks air quality in U.S. cities, is currently showing PM2.5 levels of 69 micrograms in Atlanta, 72 in Cleveland, and a whopping 140 in Albuquerque, NM.

If those figures seem high be thankful you don’t live in Beijing, where PM2.5 levels topped 250 micrograms today.

One major implication of the study is that reductions of PM2.5 can have significant economic benefits. The authors estimate that across the entire U.S. manufacturing sector, reductions in PM2.5 since 1997 has led to an aggregate labor savings of $19.5 billion – a previously-unknown benefit of fine particulate regulation.

The larger question, of course, is whether these findings extend even to workers in retail and other regular office settings.

“We are very curious about this,” Graff Zivin told me. “Whether more cognitive indoor activities are subject to similar effects is an important area for future research, but there is certainly a plausible channel through which these could occur.”

Source: Washington Post

Poor indoor air quality can not only affect work performance, but also workers’ health and well-being as well as morale. For improved IAQ, Electrocorp offers industrial and commercial air cleaners with activated carbon and HEPA, which effectively remove fine particles, odors, chemicals, fumes, mold, bacteria and viruses from the ambient air.

The wide range of units includes air cleaners for offices, air cleaners for chemical processing plants, air cleaners for welding fume extraction, air cleaners for hospital and health care, and many more workplace uses.

Contact Electrocorp for more information and a free consultation.

 

Those with strong health, wellness, and safety programs bested S&P 500 average rate of return in investment simulations

Companies that build a culture of health by focusing on the well-being and safety of their workforce may yield greater value for their investors, according to a study published in the September issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM), official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Chemical fumes exposure can lead to headaches, nausea and shortness of breath. Image: FreeDigitalPhotos

Poor indoor air quality can lead
to headaches, nausea and shortness of breath.
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos

The stock market performance of companies that had received ACOEM’s Corporate Health Achievement Award (CHAA), which annually recognizes the healthiest and safest companies in North America, was conducted at HealthNEXT LLC and analyzed by lead authors Raymond Fabius, MD, and R. Dixon Thayer, and colleagues. Companies that receive the award must be engaged in demonstrable and robust efforts to reduce health and safety risks among their employees.

Tracking an initial theoretical investment of $10,000 in publicly traded CHAA-recipients from the mid 1990s to 2012, researchers found that these award-winning CHAA companies outperformed the S&P 500.

Four investment scenarios were created, using a combination of simulations and past market-performance to create investor portfolios for comparison. While the margin of return varied, CHAA recipients outperformed the market in each of the four scenarios.

In the highest-performing scenario, CHAA companies had an annualized return of 5.23% vs. −0.06% for the S&P 500. In the lowest-performing scenario, CHAA companies had an annualized return of 6.03% vs. 2.92% for the S&P 500.

“Our results strongly support the view that focusing on health and safety of a workforce is good business,” said the study authors. “Engaging in a comprehensive effort to promote wellness, reduce the health risks of a workforce, and mitigate the complications of chronic illness within these populations can produce remarkable impacts on health care costs, productivity and performance.”

The authors acknowledge that the study focuses on the performance of a small collection of companies on the stock market for a limited number of years, and that more research is needed before a strong causal relationship can be established between health and safety programs and market results.

But they conclude that the study adds new evidence-based data to a growing body of literature indicating that “healthy workforces provide a competitive financial advantage in the marketplace.”

Source: American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Lab Manager

Create healthier indoor environments with air purifiers

Breathing in contaminated air for prolonged periods of time can affect the respiratory tract, cardiovascular and other parts of the human body. Unfortunately, the air in many offices and workplaces contains toxic chemicals, particles, biological contaminants and irritating odors.

Electrocorp has designed highly functional and portable air filtration systems for commercial and industrial applications, which can provide cleaner and healthier air at the workplace.

The air cleaners feature many pounds of activated carbon (activated charcoal) for airborne chemicals and gases, HEPA filters for particulate matter and optional UV germicidal filtration.

For more information or a consultation with an IAQ expert, contact Electrocorp.

Poor indoor air quality impacts students as well as teachers and school staff, experts warn.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has long been a promoter of good indoor air quality in schools as well as greener administration practices, and helps schools make changes for the better with their Tools for Schools guidance.

In a recent webinar on Green Ribbon Schools (GRS), a US Department of Education project, experts demonstrated why indoor air quality is so important for a healthy school environment as well as for academic success.

Environmental health is one of the main pillars of GRS, and focuses on integrated pest management (employing healthier alternatives to pesticides), ventilation and contamination controls of indoor air pollutants such as chemicals, tobacco smoke, mold, radon and more.

IAQ often overlooked

According to the webinar experts, indoor air quality can affect the students, teachers’ and administrators’ health, comfort and ability to perform.

IAQ is a major component of the school’s physical environment that is the most easily overlooked, they said.

Indoor air pollution can cause or aggravate asthma.

In schools, IAQ should always be a priority because children are more vulnerable to environmental pollution.

They breathe more air than adults in relation to their body size and their immune systems and organs are still developing.

Health effects of poor IAQ can be immediate or long-term. For example, many indoor air pollutants can cause or trigger asthma, or aggravate the symptoms.

With one out of every 10 school children suffering from asthma, the missed school days also affect their overall performances.

Academic performance linked to IAQ

The experts cited scientific evidence that showed how improved indoor air quality increases productivity, the ability to concentrate and recall information and can reduce respiratory illnesses.

It can also save schools money, as better academic performances may mean increased funding for the district. A healthy school environment in a well-maintained school also means fewer costly, major repairs have to be done. Schools also have to spend less on substitute teachers, if there are fewer health-related absences.

The experts gave the following tips for schools:

  • Change the HVAC filters regularly
  • Fix water infiltration problems immediately to avoid mold and mildew
  • Implement Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices
  • Keep rooms clean and free of clutter
  • Store hazardous products safely
  • Ban idling vehicles outside
  • Use healthy cleaning agents and materials
  • Conduct regular inspections

Source: EPA

Air cleaners for schools, daycares and universities

Children and staff need to be protected from indoor air pollutants. Aside from making the changes outlined above, learning institutions can use affordable and portable air cleaners to help provide cleaner and healthier air.

Electrocorp’s air cleaners for schools and universities feature a deep-bed activated carbon filter for chemicals, gases, odors and fumes, a HEPA filter for particles, dust and pollen, and optional UV germicidal filtration for biological contaminants such as mold, bacteria and viruses.

The air cleaners can be placed in individual classrooms, or they can be attached to existing HVAC systems.

For more information, contact Electrocorp at 1-866-667-0297.

Welding without proper ventilation is a health-risk
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos

A British lighting company has been prosecuted for subjecting its employees to poor working conditions.

Despite specialists giving recommendations on how to improve standards, and a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector uncovering multiple areas where the company was not meeting health guidelines, it continued to function under the same circumstances for at least eight more months.

The company was recently fined for sub-standard bathroom facilities, defects in the electrical system, little to no heating in the building, and no ventilation in the welding and powder-spraying sections.

These failings highlighted the extreme risks workers took when going to work every day. One inspector even stated he had never seen such poor conditions in the ten years he’d been an inspector.

This company is representative of poor indoor air quality sometimes found in the industrial sector. Many health hazards surrounded the workers, such as bacteria from the bathrooms, the risk of being electrocuted by the faulty systems, catching various colds or flus due to a lack of proper insulation and heating, and breathing in toxic fumes in both the spray booths and the welding area.

In 2010/2011, statistics revealed that work-related illnesses affected approximately 100,000 people in Yorkshire and Humber, England.

Source: Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

Indoor Air Quality in the Industrial Sector

Working in the industrial sector can be very stressful. Many people are faced with tasks that involve welding, sawing, electrical work, and/or the handling of toxic chemicals. Working with such materials requires a safe and healthy environment.

It is the companies’ responsibility to provide clean and toxic-free working conditions so employees will work more efficiently, and absenteeism, due to work-related illnesses, will be minimized.

A healthy working environment makes for a happier and healthier employee.

Improving a company’s indoor air quality

If you’re a company that is predominantly in production or manufacturing, and many duties involve welding, soldering, sawing, etc…, the best way to mitigate poor air quality is to use Electrocorp’s Fume Extractor series of air cleaners. With metalwork, it is recommended that each person have a Fume Extractor by his or her side.

Electrocorp’s Fume Extractor

The units have a spark arrestor as well as a maneuverable arm and intake hood which can be moved close to the fumes and sparks. The hood allows the toxic chemicals to be absorbed from the source and immediately taken out of the ambient air, thus providing a healthier indoor air quality for all employees.

The units use 40-80 lb activated carbon filters to adsorb the toxic chemicals, and HEPA filters help extract particles from the air.

Have you ever been ill from poor air quality at the workplace?

Do you run a company where you make sure the quality of the air keeps your employees healthy?

We want to hear from you. Tell us your stories, or feel free to ask any questions. We’d be happy to respond.

Show your support for green working environments by becoming a follower of this blog.

For more information on Electrocorp, please contact us.

Bad air quality in schools and universities can inhibit the learning process

Almost half of campuses in the United States are considering bans on tobacco in all its forms, or have already enacted such policies, according to a recent AP article in the Washington Post.

That means not only is smoking not allowed inside the buildings, but it may be banned from the entire campus as well.

Despite opposition from student smokers and some staff and faculty members, the bans are perhaps a natural result of the mounting evidence presented by researchers about the dangerous effects of tobacco smoke and secondhand smoke exposure.

The main reasons speaking for such bans are:

  • Health risks
  • Reduced costs of smoke-free dorms and facilities
  • Minimizing enticements to form a dangerous lifelong habit

Universities in California, New York and Missouri are planning tobacco bans in the near future.

The surgeon general’s report for 2012 identified the ages of 18-26 as the most critical for young people to start smoking and become lifelong users.

About a quarter to a third of college students smoke, studies show.

However, campus tobacco bans have gained popularity across the nation, growing from pretty much zero a decade ago to more than 700 today.

Source: Washington Post

Improving indoor air quality in universities and schools

The ban on tobacco products is a good first step, but many universities, colleges and schools still suffer from poor indoor air quality, which can impede the students’ ability to retain information, lower their productivity and affect everyone’s health and well-being.

The air in the learning institutions often contains mold spores, dust, pollen, chemicals, VOCs, odors and other irritants, which can be removed by Electrocorp’s air cleaners for schools and universities.

The air cleaners feature the most complete air filtration system with activated carbon and HEPA as well as optional UV germicidal filtration to be able to tackle of all of the aforementioned pollutants.

Electrocorp has worked with hundreds of universities across North America, providing air cleaners to classrooms, laboratories, welding labs, office/administrative tracts, libraries and archives, painting and art studios as well as other environments.

For more information, contact Electrocorp.

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