Indoor Air Quality’s crucial role for business


10 April 2017
Mark Stevens, Managing Director of HVDS, explores the importance of a healthy and happy working environment.
Since the referendum in June 2016, the UK’s relationship with the EU supply chain has been under serious scrutiny, and fears of the impact to businesses due to the import and export changes are prevalent across the British food manufacturing and processing industry. As further challenges are placed on food manufacturers, producers and processors from the UK Brexit strategies, companies are quickly looking for improvements to strengthen their position and positively impact their food production process. 
Many business retention strategies target unnecessary expenditure, as well as short-term investments that will offer long-term financial benefits. Typically machinery and automation are at the forefront of business retention. However, since more than 90% of the costs associated with a building are related to the people in the workplace, for the majority, the initial focus for consideration is Labour Productivity.  Labour Productivity reviews the company employee organisation, the level of employee numbers, and the final output of production in relation to labour costs. Sometimes drastic changes are made to a company’s employee resources as a result of analysing the LP, and consequently businesses unfortunately opt for the redundancy route to eliminate a large proportion of labour costs.

It is becoming far too common to see announcements in relation to staff cuts across the food manufacturing and food processing industries, and for consumers, suppliers and processors alike, it has become somewhat a cause for concern. Even though the long term financial benefits of employee redundancy are fairly minimal, it seems as though rather than being a last resort, staff cuts are becoming a ‘go to’ resolve for initial cost saving and business retention – we shudder to think!

Although staff cuts require minimal or no investment and provide a reliable, short term answer to cost saving; making redundancies does have its clauses. Quite often, the main cause for concern of redundancy; particularly in larger, well established manufacturing businesses, centres around negative publicity and the influence it leaves on a ‘brand’.  It is proven that consumers build a level of trust and in some respects an individual relationship with their preferred and reputable brands. And when negative attention is brought upon these brands it is commonplace for this relationship to be intervened, and so the downward financial spiral begins. 

Clearly it serves to benefit not only the consumers, suppliers and processors, but the manufacturer and company themselves, if all alternative cost saving opportunities are contemplated before taking any drastic redundancy action. We understand that investment in automation equipment and machinery; that can rapidly increase productivity in a food manufacturing environment doesn’t come cheap. And if it does, you need to take into consideration how much ‘value added maintenance time’ is likely to be required for servicing and repairs to ensure the smooth running of the equipment.

When investing in production equipment is not an option, it is time to look at labour productivity improvements, without reducing staff numbers or making radical changes to employment contracts. Instead, turning heads to minimal investment and long term changes that can be made almost overnight. Changes that not only have the potential to increase labour productivity by almost 20%, but also guarantees to provide engineers and maintenance teams with additional ‘value added maintenance time’, which in turn adds to the increased productivity percentage!
It is not unheard of for a company to overlook the physical environment around their employees, it’s also not unusual for them to underestimate the relationship between the quality of this environment and its employee productivity. Considerable evidence shows that a poor quality workplace environment, particularly in manufacturing industries, can majorly impact on staff performance, emulated by the correlation between the state of employees’ health and the level of sick related absences. There are ways in which companies can improve the state of health across their workforce without enforcing healthy routines, diet and of course, exercise. 

Air quality
Improvements to the physical workplace environment have proven to better employees’ health and considerably boost labour productivity, which indirectly reduces labour costs and allows for employee retention.

One of the main environmental impacts to employee health within a food manufacturing facility is the air quality. When talking about ‘air quality’ most people only concentrate on outdoor air, with its concoction of smog, smoke, dust and other types of air pollution. What people fail to think about is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). IAQ has a massive impact on employee health and productivity. To perform effectively in their roles, the air circulation, extraction and ventilation should be optimised to ensure the health and comfort of employees. The health repercussions from poor IAQ are extensive and links have been made to headaches, rashes, respiratory difficulties, asthma, heart and liver damage and even cancers.

A series of studies and experiments have been performed and evidence has shown significant improvements in employee performance by efficiently removing airborne pollutants through extraction. And providing fresh air supply and circulation offers a positive effect on comfort and health. However, in low or nontoxic environments like food factories, processing facilities, and administration offices it is hard to recognise just how much airborne pollution could actually be in circulation.

Low level IAQ is usually caused by contamination from Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s). VOC’s are organic chemicals that have a high vapour pressure at room temperature, this pressure causes large numbers of molecules to evaporate into the air, causing contamination of the workplace environment. VOC’s can emanate from a number of unlikely applications; from computers and printers, manufacturing machinery, construction materials, furniture and furnishings, floor coverings and cleaning products.

All of these products and applications omit a range of VOC’s, including formaldehyde, toluene and other chemical solvents. To add to the contamination, heat produced by machinery and technical equipment accelerates the diffusion of emissions into the surrounding air. And since, on average as a nation, we spend 90% of our time indoors and more than a third of this in the workplace, the importance of workplace IAQ becomes apparent.

Understanding where and how air moves around within a production facility doesn’t just improve employee productivity, but it also offers other important benefits. Ventilation mapping, air supply and extraction are central to food manufacturing compliance audits; ensuring hygiene and safety to legal requirements. Furthermore, clean air handling is essential for maintaining separation between high care and low care areas, and when these are effectively managed they can reduce the amount of financial loss related to down-time from contamination.

Providing a good level of fresh air ventilation, contaminated air filtration and VOC extraction is essential to reducing indoor air pollutants and maintaining a good IAQ in the workplace. Small changes to the air mapping and air handling within a manufacturing facility can be made to improve cognitive performance and productivity within the workplace. Consequently, significantly boosting labour productivity as well as manufacturing output. As a result, increasing employee retention and reduced labour costs and unnecessary expenditure.

Initial outlays for a better IAQ can be as little as a few hundred pounds depending on the physical size of a business and the air handling products and services that are required. However, once it is completed the business potential of 20% increased labour productivity, significantly reduced outgoing costs from inefficient air handling and limiting the possibility of a negative brand reputation, far outweighs the investment, and even changes the strategy from business retention to business development.

Admittedly there is an abundance of other areas in which a food manufacturer could focus attention for development and enhancement. But, Indoor Air Quality could be the ‘breath of fresh air’ that a business needs to nurture the UK manufacturing industry through the effects of last year’s referendum result.
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