A healthier workplace thanks to sensor data
The health of users of non-residential buildings is increasingly becoming a topic of discussion. New sensor and data technology can help keep the working environment of a building’s users as healthy as possible. How does this work? And what are the influencing factors?
The economic cycle has a significant impact on the attention devoted to the health of users in buildings. In a booming economy with a tight job market, it is more difficult to find good staff. As employer you then have to play a different trump card for attracting and retaining talent than you would in an economic downturn, where there is a lower demand for employees.
An example of such a trump card is your image as an employer. What do you stand for as employer? What makes your organisation interesting and challenging? And in addition, what are you doing to keep your employees fit and healthy? Are you providing a working environment that contributes to employee health? The more choice the sought-after talents have, the more important the answer to these questions. Visibly demonstrating that you intend to provide a healthy working environment can form part of your company's strategy.
However, the difficulty is that a building’s ‘health factors’ are not really all that tangible. There are so many factors that determine someone’s health, that it is difficult for a building manager to discover areas where quick successes can be achieved. There appears to be a need for clear, specific points of reference in the market.
To somewhat simplify this issue, we can begin by establishing the following: you do not become healthier in a healthy building, while, by contrast, your health does deteriorate in an unhealthy building. For example: you do not become more fit than you already are from good air quality at your workplace. However, poor air quality can reduce your level of fitness and even cause you to become ill. The trick therefore is to know when a working environment approaches that ‘unhealthy boundary’. Fortunately, a lot of data and sensor technology has since been developed that can assist in this.
Let’s zoom in on precisely how a working environment can affect someone’s health and productivity. And on the factors that play a role in this respect. According to the World Green Building Council there are nine such factors (see illustration).
Of these nine factors, there are four that can be measured and influenced using building technology. These are: air quality, temperature, light and noise. Sensors can be used to bring these variables into view by collecting data and analysing it in smart ways. This makes the influences on employee health tangible. Information is created from the data and this information provides insight into the quality of the building as a whole and into the quality of individual spaces in particular. This in turn enables you to recognise patterns and implement improvements.
Guidelines and ambitions
So the technology to monitor these influences is currently available. To complete the picture, you also need guidelines, to clearly identify how a building or space scores on the health scale. The Healthy Interior Climate Platform has developed the Schedule of Requirements for Healthy Office Buildings 2018 for this purpose. This document defines the different ambition levels for each health theme: satisfactory, good and very good.
Designers, contractors, installers – they all can base their new build plans or their plans for renovating existing buildings on these requirements. In addition, these reference guidelines can be used as yardsticks for monitoring and improving the performance of buildings during their use phase. This makes it possible to make adjustments at an early stage when a space appears to become unhealthy. And when renovating working spaces, this also makes it possible to check whether the new situation still meets the requirements. In the future, health and comfort will be performance goals that are just as self-evident as energy efficiency.
This blog was previously published on the Duurzaam Gebouwd [Sustainably Built] platform.