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The role of FM teams in the fight for clean air

19 October 2020

Charlie Steere, founder of Kebao Air shares his insight on the changing role of FM teams.

According to the UK government, poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK. The House of Commons Environment Audit Committee has even estimated that the cost of air pollution to national health could exceed £20billion.

Most of our exposure to air pollution actually occurs indoors. A study carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency revealed levels of air pollution can be as much five times higher inside than outside. As clean air is vital to the health of both the general population and the government’s finances, it is frustrating the air quality issue still dominates conversations about the nation’s wellbeing.

In particular, why - 10 years after the Environment Audit Committee’s report - do UK employers remain behind the rest of the world when it comes to ensuring the safety of office air for workers?

The changing role of FM teams
Before ‘back to work’ calls were postponed by the Prime Minister’s tightening of lockdown measures, public transport usage in the UK soared to the highest level since the start of the pandemic. Moreover, traffic congestion raced past pre-lockdown levels both inside and outside London as commuters sought ‘Covid-secure’
 modes of travel, data from the Environmental Defense Fund Europe revealed. 

This means that for those unable to work from home, facilities management (FM) teams will be tasked with providing sufficient amounts of hand sanitiser and enforcing social distancing measures, while operating amidst increased pollution levels and serving a workforce apprehensive about returning.

Here are some ways FM teams can start the process of cleaning up office air:

Ensure air vents are working and unblocked 
Check air vents are open, working and not blocked by furniture or other items to ensure air within the office is able to circulate properly.

Maintain a good level of humidity 
Low levels of office humidity can cause respiratory issues for workers. If levels are too high however, it’s difficult to keep allergens and pollutants under control. Teams have many ways in which to manage humidity levels - including deploying dehumidifiers, for example.

Invest in office plants 
As well as adding some much needed greenery to your office, plants are nature's way of absorbing toxins and producing oxygen. As a result, air quality will improve - although plants cannot be used alone as a quick fix. They need to be nurtured alongside the introduction of other measures.

Purchase air purifiers 
One of the best ways to filter viruses, pollutants and allergens is with an air purifier. Having one in the office will ensure air is cleaner and healthier. Filterless products - reduce the chance of occupational exposure as normal filters can harbour bacteria or viruses which can be a hazard for those changing them - are usually the best option. 

Keep the office clean 
Staying on top of cleanliness is vital - clean work spaces are less likely to contain pollutants capable of mixing with the air or causing harm to employees. 

With ways of working changing so dramatically, these pointers can really make a difference as FM teams address the air quality challenge and move safely with the times. 

The future of FM
While the UK tries to get back to ‘normal’, the future for facilities managers won’t be the same. COVID-19 and increasing pollution levels mean their job role now goes beyond providing services and office space. Instead, FM staff will take on more responsibility, being involved in business-wide decisions to balance the use of office buildings and home workers.

As FMs find themselves at the forefront of plans to ensure workers also remain safe at home, they are presented with a real opportunity to positively impact the health of employees. Air quality must be part of this conversation.

By ensuring workplaces - at home or in the office - become sanctuaries of wellness, staff will not only benefit from cleaner air, but safer, more productive, spaces.

While companies continue to decide how best to tackle the unprecedented challenges they face, FM teams are the ones with a vital role to play to make sure workers can either come back to the office, or remain at home, in a safe, sustainable and clean way.