INDOOR AIR QUALITY STANDARDS – A MUST FOR HEALTHY WORKPLACES IN INDIA
There is an increasing focus and much discussion about the importance of indoor air quality in enclosed areas where people gather together whether it be offices, hospitals, schools or public places such as malls airports etc.
The issue of indoor air quality and its impact on health and wellbeing is more pronounced in the offices or workplaces where people work together for hours. Most work places are located in the most polluted cities or areas in India which makes a strong case for close focus (monitoring) and implementation of appropriate governance, reporting and remedial measures.
As per University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute (EPIC), the region including India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan accounts for more than half of the total life years lost globally to pollution. The issue of air quality within major business hubs in India is also varying degrees as indicated in the chart below (Refer – www.aqi.in):
|CITY||Last 24 hrs average AQI|
Mumbai (Bandra Kurla Complex)
Delhi (New Friends Colony)
Chennai (Gandhi Nagar)
Hyderabad (Central University)
Table 1: City-wise last 24 hrs average AQI (As on 15th Nov, 2023)
What is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
The air we breath in is the foundation of good health and wellbeing. Healthy air means less intake of airborne contaminants and other harmful gases which positively impacts overall health thereby enhancing cognitive abilities and productivity at an individual level. At the organization level it leads to higher attendance, improved productivity reduced medical insurance expenses and an overall improvement in employee morale and wellbeing.
Many countries have defined the minimum standards for IAQ and in a few of them maintain and reporting the prescribed IAQ levels is now made as a mandatory compliance responsibility for the organization. Many more countries are following suit There are key recommendations made by the industry body ASHRAE as well which are available in the public domain.
Air quality is listed one among the Nine foundations for healthy buildings, in a study paper by Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health
The workplace environment is designed for people to be together – whether it be at a cluster of work stations, in a meeting room, an assembly line, in the cafeteria or recreation area and so on. These are enclosed areas therefore carry a very high level of health risk if the indoor air quality doesn’t comply with the prescribed standards. However, notwithstanding this, Indoor Air Quality in workplace has significant bearing on Outdoor Indoor Quality., i.e. ambient environment There are however established containment strategies prescribed by American Society for Heating, Refrigeration and Airconditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 62.1 and 62.2, Ventilation and acceptable IAQ) and other leading standards organizations, real estate companies have started to adopt in India.
The outdoor air quality is a product of various environmental factors which could be beyond the control of the organizations operating workplaces from these areas. However, a comprehensive approach taking into consideration the ambient air quality and its impact on the indoor air is a must in defining the standards for IAQ within the buildings. Also, within the building, a practical approach to providing the best indoor air quality needs to be integrated, considering air quality of each and every area of the workplace and its correlation with the air quality in the other connected areas and design the HVAC systems that can be dynamically managed to provide consistent IAQ across the facility.
Primarily, there are 2 causes of Indoor Air Pollution inside a facility:
- Ambient condition that influences the pollution inside. Particulate matters (PM), CO (Carbon monoxide), and O3 (Ozone) are the primary constituents.
- Inside pollution that contributes hugely in the overall indoor pollution due to poor ventilation, occupant monitoring, and control. The principal constituents are VOC, CO2 apart from the effect of uncontrolled temperature and humidity inside.
While, there are some air pollutant indexations following the outdoor AQI calculation, till now there is hardly any concrete use and evidence of including VOC, CO2 data in Indoor Air quality Index calculation.
IAQ Standards – The case for India
As per “World Air Quality Report 2022” published by IQAir, India stands at 8th position in global air pollution index.
As on 15th Nov 2023, the current PM2.5 concentration in India is 6.1 times above the recommended limit given by the WHO 24 hrs air quality guidelines value. (As on 15th Nov, 2023).
Within India the air quality appears to be the worst in the cities where commercial activities are concentrated.
Below figure highlights the AQI of major Indian cities:
Figure 1: AQI in Major Indian Cities (As on 15th Nov, 2023)
There are multiple factors that contribute towards the poor air quality in India. Activities such as burning of fossil fuels, industrial emissions, vehicular emissions, construction and demolition, agricultural activities, open burning of waste and other microbial decaying process add significantly towards the deterioration of air quality.
Added to these are inconsistency in public policies on air pollution control measures, inadequacy of enforcing what exists and lack of public awareness and participation towards reduction of emissions and other polluting activities.
The persistent poor outdoor air quality brings in focus the need for air quality management. Current studies on indoor air quality are largely West oriented and therefore the standards also are most applicable to those environments
Use of toxic products also called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), inadequate ventilation, uneven temperature, and humidity level can cause indoor air pollution, whether you are in an office, school, or at your comfortable home.
In India, there are no separate indoor air quality standards or guidelines yet designed. However, some components involved in determining indoor air quality are considered in the National Building Code 2016 (NBC). The Indian Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ISHRAE) has published an Indoor Environmental Quality Standard that identifies thermal comfort, indoor air quality, comfort, and acoustic comfort as four critical elements of IEQ. Each of these elements has been covered by defining their threshold levels of IEQ parameters. Three levels for defining threshold values have been created: Class A (Aspirational), Class B (Prescriptive), and Class C (Minimum).
There are extensive studies conducted by the National Institute of Health on the impact and cost of indoor air quality. These reports are available on their website –(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4215499/).
The data points highlighted in these articles are alarming and therefore underlines the need for defined IAQ metrics and the statutes for implementation of the same. Considering that a large percentage of the able population spends most of their lifetime at the workplace, it will auger well implement these standards at the work place. Organizations need to be made conscious about employee wellbeing and the contribution made by IAQ towards this.
In conclusion, achieving a transformational change towards improvement in outdoor and indoor air quality may be a tall order, however determined focus and efforts towards eliminating the negatives and enhancing the positives is a much essential need of the hour. For a country, which aspires to be a global economic power this is something which cannot be ignored.
And a foundational step towards this would be measure, monitor, track, govern , report Indoor Air Quality in Workplaces, hospitals ,schools, retail and shopping malls ,public infrastructure (like airports , MRT stations etc.) , manufacturing facilities, to name a few and take real time remedial actions as required.
Charts, data points and references from public domain.
CT Sadanandan (aka CTS)
Advisor – PAS Digital Pvt. Ltd. (Caleedo), Veteran Practitioner of Workplace Services (Ex Vice President – Corporate Services, BCM & CSR, Tata Communications