As summer approaches, researchers have reminded employers that better ventilation — plain old fresh air — and comfortable working temperatures — can have important effects on workers’ productivity levels and concentration.

Scientists at the Berkeley National Lab, managed by the University of California and supported by the US Office of Science, have concluded that indoor air quality in offices and schools may often fail to meet minimum standards.

In one piece of research, the researchers found that student performance at schools was clearly diminished when ventilation rates were low and it is thought that elevated concentrations of carbon dioxide may be the culprit.

The data on carbon dioxide levels indicated a widespread failure to provide the minimum amount of ventilation specified in standards for classrooms.

Dr William Fisk of Berkeley Lab's Indoor Environment Group also warned that insufficient ventilation increases levels of indoor-generated air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds, which can contribute to respiratory health problems.

He said, “Increasing ventilation — or the supply of outdoor air to a building — can improve air quality. In schools, the Berkeley Lab analysis shows, better air is linked with improved student attendance and performance; students' cognitive performance increased by as much as 15%.”

In addition, other research by the Berkeley National Lab and Dr Fisk has concluded that when office temperatures rise above around 24°C, worker performance begins to drop off, as employees find it increasingly difficult to concentrate.

Last reviewed 10 May 2019