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Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) and Health Effects of Air Pollution

by Guest Post on Nov 1, 2011

Employers, whether building owners or tenants have found that dissatisfaction with the indoor environment can lead to a host of employee problems, ranging from lost productivity whether through lost days or just decreased effectiveness to outright hostility toward management. At the very least, unresolved problems can foster a belief that management just doesn't care. Some investigators have found an even more troublesome reaction. It's well known that IEQ (Indoor Environmental Quality) problems affect some occupants more than others. In some offices, this has created us versus them scenario with the unaffected accusing the others of malingering, and the affected feeling that the others were uncaring. The result: deteriorating morale.

Union Trouble

As if declining productivity or employee distrust of management weren't enough, some employers have seen IEQ (Indoor Environmental Quality) complaints become a "bargaining chip" for unions at contract time. This can be particularly troublesome for several reasons:

  • Many times, employee perception of the problem, once mistrust is established, runs counter to the facts. We have seen cases where the perception of indoor air quality declined when all objective measurements indicated it should have been getting better.
  • Health and safety are emotional and volatile issues. Once building occupants become sensitized to IEQ (Indoor Environmental Quality) concerns, even the most innocuous strange smell can set off a wave of panic.
  • Many times IEQ (Indoor Environmental Quality) problems are difficult to detect and resolve. An ongoing problem, despite the best efforts of management, can result in widespread employee dissatisfaction.

Public Buildings

Those in charge of public buildings live under the double curse of high visibility and a volatile political climate. Unable to impose a nondisclosure agreement, managers of public buildings must try to solve the problem under the glare of almost daily publicity. Members of the general public, and opposing politicians, have little patience for issues without quick and certain resolution, increasing the pressure on those in charge. When the building is a school, parents soon become involved and can quickly push the issue past the boiling point. As reported recently continuing problems at one high school caused parents at a public meeting to call for closing the school, even though school officials had nowhere else to house the 1,500 students.

Real Estate As Investment

For many investors, the building, its marketability, and the value of the commercial paper associated with it are vital concerns. A catastrophic IEQ problem or a "bad image" created by ongoing publicity can seriously erode the building's worth. The concern over building value extends far beyond the developers. Those who buy and sell mortgages in the secondary market are slowly becoming aware of the financial ramifications IEQ problems can have, and firms that conduct due diligence surveys for investors are beginning to pay close attention to a building's potential for IEQ problems.

What to Do?

While the problems can be serious, there's no need for panic. On the other hand, to take the position that IEQ problems are nothing more than environmental hysteria or a passing fad is to invite far more serious problems. In talking with IEQ consultants and lawyers involved in the IEQ field, we hear recurring themes that bear remembering:

  • Maintain a proactive stance, rather than merely reacting to problems;
  • Take occupant complaints seriously;
  • Investigate problems quickly and thoroughly;
  • Communicate effectively and tell occupants what you are doing, what you have learned, and what you plan to do about it;
  • Implement recommendations completely (if you can't do everything, determine what can safely be deferred);
  • Operate the building according to design and/or current standard practice; and
  • Use IEQ professionals to investigate and mitigate building problems; case studies are filled with instances where the building staff tried to handle the problem and made it worse. There is nothing you can do that will make you immune to lawsuits or other financial risks. However, you can limit your exposure or the likelihood that occupants whether tenants or employees will feel aggrieved over indoor environmental conditions.

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