The presence of dust mites and mould spores in an office space may well inject some truth into the “I’m allergic to work” joke that some people make about their jobs! These microscopic particles can trigger uncomfortable allergic reactions in some individuals and exacerbate asthma symptoms in others.
Some of the allergic reactions that people may suffer include itchy eyes and nose, watery eyes, sneezing, rashes, stuffy nose and breathing problems. If you are frequently seeing these reactions in a number of your workers, the problem may be down to a high-humidity environment. This is because dust mites and mould spores require a moist environment in which to thrive.
Ideal humidity levels and dehumidifiers
The ideal humidity level for indoor environments is generally considered to be somewhere between 40% and 60%, but it can also depend on other factors. For instance, according to the Australian Building Codes Board relative humidity at 21°C needs to be below 45% to avoid dust mite proliferation, and below 65% to avoid mould germination. At higher temperatures, indoor humidity levels will need to be lower, and vice versa.
Humidity levels in buildings can be assessed using a hygrometer – an instrument designed to measure the moisture levels in the atmosphere. If the levels are too high in your workplace, you may need to install a dehumidifier to improve health and comfort for your workers.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia, dehumidifiers work by drawing air over cold coils and condensing out the moisture within it, and are particularly useful for preventing the triggering of asthma and allergies as well as inhibiting the growth of bacteria.
Cautions around using dehumidifiers
- Dehumidifiers may not be required in every workplace, especially those that already have moisture levels in the healthy range. Some dry climate areas may actually require the opposite – a humidifier – especially in cold areas where heaters are constantly running, which can lead to an overly dry environment.
- If you do install a dehumidifier in your workplace, it’s important that its capacity matches the size of the space you want to use it in.
- Dehumidifiers can develop mould in drainage areas, so it’s important to have them cleaned regularly.
- Don’t automatically assume that because your workers are sneezing and wheezing that the environment is too moist, as there may be another factor triggering the problem.
Finally, dehumidifiers are no substitute for regular office cleaning. The advanced technology used by professional office cleaning services can remove minute particles from workplace surfaces, reducing the risk of dust mite infestations. Where hospital-grade disinfectants are used, the risk of infection is also strongly reduced.
By all means, if you think the environment in your office is too moist, get it properly tested and install a dehumidifier if required. It will most likely improve the comfort and health of your employees. But don’t forget to also have your office professionally cleaned as well, to keep its environment as clean and hygienic as possible.