The University of Southampton

Research endorses better air quality for healthier and more productive offices

Published: 29 November 2018

Improved awareness of poor indoor air quality could lead to healthier and more productive offices, according to research published by the University of Southampton.

Dr Stephen Snow, from Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS), has made several recommendations to address indoor air quality in a report commissioned by the Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Indoor air quality is a leading cause of health effects and reduced cognitive performance in offices, but has until recently taken a back seat to the more commonly reported concerns over outdoor air quality.

The research in ECS’s Agents, Interaction and Complexity Group evaluated social and behavioural factors that affect the air quality in offices and shared, among many outcomes, that low cost air quality sensors could improve awareness of poor conditions and trigger actions that lead to healthier workplaces.

“Because we become acclimatised to the space we're in, cognitive performance can be impacted by inadequate ventilation prior to awareness of the declining indoor air quality,” Stephen explains. “This report outlines opportunities for how indoor air quality visualisations might be designed to inform and support healthier ventilation practices in naturally ventilated offices.”

Findings from the two-part report, which was facilitated by the Public Policy Southampton team, have now been presented to Defra, with discussions for follow-up work underway.

Stephen’s research placed a specific focus on the sphere of influence of occupants for their office’s air quality, rather than exploring engineering solutions or building performance factors over which users have no control.

In highlighting the potential rewards of investment in low cost office sensors, the research made a number of recommendations including that such devices should be ambient, viewable with a quick glance, unobtrusive, provide immediately actionable information and offer human analogies such as pictures of an office worker progressively falling asleep as air quality deteriorates.

The research also suggested that indoor air quality campaigns could focus on prompts for regular and active breaks from seated office work and offer insight into applicable behavioural models to guide future interventions.

As part of a secondment available through Public Policy Southampton and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Impact Accelerator Account funding, Stephen had the opportunity to draw upon and expand his existing research as part of the REFRESH Project, led by Principal Investigator m.c. schraefel, into how social factors can affect interactions with building controls such as windows and radiators as well as the design of office-based air quality monitors.

An electronic version of the ECS report is available through the Public Policy Southampton website.

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