Most businesses want you to stay home when you’re sick because the cost of one employee missing a couple of days of work is much cheaper than that employee coming in to barely work and infecting the whole office. An average employee will take 14 sick days off per year, the number of which they are actually sick or just “sick” will never be known. However, these numbers can greatly add up. The Integrated Benefits Institute, which represents major U.S. employers and business coalitions, says poor health costs the U.S. economy $576 billion a year, according to new research. Of that amount, 39 percent, or $227 billion is from “lost productivity” from employee absenteeism due to illness or what researchers called “presenteeism,” when employees report to work but illness keeps them from performing at their best.
One of the reasons we get sick is from the air we are breathing in our offices. You may be thinking that this is limited to the air circulating around your sick coworkers infecting you, but it is also from indoor air pollution. Employees in high-rises, particularly those over parking garages or loading docks, may breathe in carbon monoxide carried into the building through the fresh-air-intake vents. If smokers are chatting outside next to an air intake vent, workers inside the building may even inhale secondhand smoke through the ventilation system. Printers and fax machines emit ozone, which may combine with other organic chemicals in the workplace. Exterminators spray pesticides that may linger for days in the carpet. Cleaning products sprayed on walls and floors at night add to the mix. Revolving doors suck in car exhaust and cigarette fumes from people smoking outside; building renovations throw in construction dust, paint fumes, and "off-gassing" fumes from new carpets. If you're like most office workers, you can't crack open a window because you work in a sealed building. This form of indoor air pollution can result in headaches, nausea, dizziness, irritability, itchy eyes, and respiratory illnesses, among other problems.
Unfortunately, there is no single test to find an indoor air quality problem. Your employer should check measurements of temperature, humidity and air flow. In addition, inspection and testing of the ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems (to make sure it is working according to specifications for building use and occupancy) should be performed. A building walk-through to check for odors and look for water damage, leaks, dirt or pest droppings may be helpful. Leaks need to be eliminated. Standing water in humidifiers, air conditioning units, on roofs and in boiler pans can become contaminated with bacteria or fungi and need to be eliminated, also. In some circumstances, specific testing for radon or for asbestos may be required as part of building occupancy. For instance, in schools asbestos needs to be checked every three years and re-inspected every 6 months (under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act-AHERA).
To help prevent indoor air pollution employers are required to follow the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration Act, which requires them to provide workers with a safe workplace that does not have any known hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious injury. The OSHA Act also requires employers to obey occupational safety and health standards created under it. Employers should be reasonably aware of the possible sources of poor air quality, and they should have the resources necessary to recognize and control workplace hazards. It is also their responsibility to inform employees of the immediate dangers that are present. Specific state and local regulations may apply.
One of the best and simplest ways you can help protect yourself is to step outside and get some fresh air. Health benefits besides lowering your exposure to indoor air pollution include:
- Boosts your immune system - White blood cells require more oxygen when working to kill and destroy bacteria, viruses, and germs. They need enough fresh oxygen to work and function properly.
- Digestive improvements - Fresh air helps you to digest food more effectively. That is why it’s great to take a small walk outside after you eat. From all the health benefits of fresh air, this one is really important if you are trying to lose weight.
- Cleans your lungs - Fresh air helps the airways of your lungs to dilate more fully and improves the cleansing action of your lungs. When you exhale and breathe out through your lungs, you release airborne toxins from your body.
- Improves blood pressure and heart rate - Those who have a problem with blood pressure should avoid staying at polluted environments and try to stay in surroundings that have a good supply of fresh air. Dirty environment forces the body to work harder, to get the amount of oxygen it needs.
- Increases brain activity and energy - More oxygen brings greater clarity to the brain, which needs twenty percent of our body’s oxygen to function. When you breathe fresh air you can automatically think better as compared to when you remain inside a room for a longer period of time.
- Makes you generally happier! - The amount of serotonin your body has is hugely affected by the amount of oxygen you inhale. Serotonin can significantly lighten your mood and promote a sense of happiness and well-being. Fresh air will leave you feeling more refreshed and relaxed.
This is all true of course unless you live in a city that has outdoor air pollution as bad as its indoor pollution. According to the American Lung Association, the 15 BEST cities to take a walk outside include:
#1: Prescott, AZ
#2: Farmington, NM
#3: Cheyenne, WY
#3: Casper, WY
#5: Flagstaff, AZ
#6: Duluth, MN-WI
#6: Salinas, CA
#6: Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL
#6: Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, HI
#10: Rapid City-Spearfish, SD
#10: Anchorage, AK
#10: Bismarck, ND
#13: Cape Coral-Fort Myers-Naples, FL
#13: Elmira-Corning, NY
#15: North Port-Sarasota, FL
From the same study, the 15 WORST cities to get fresh air are:
#1: Fresno-Madera, CA
#2: Bakersfield, CA
#3: Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, CA
#4: Modesto-Merced, CA
#5: Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA
#6: El Centro, CA
#7: San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA
#8: Cincinnati-Wilmington-Maysville, OH-KY-IN
#9: Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, PA-OH-WV
#10: Cleveland-Akron-Canton, OH
#11: Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, PA-NJ-DE-MD
#12: Harrisburg-York-Lebanon, PA
#12: Johnstown-Somerset, PA
#14: New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA
#15: Louisville-Jefferson County-Elizabethtown-Madison, KY-IN