Is There a Doctor in the Facility?

Recently, a researcher affiliated with Harvard said facility managers do more as “healthcare workers” for a workforce than physicians. The thinking: people spend the majority of their day in workplaces, and facility managers can influence that environment.

Joseph Allen, Ph.D., assistant professor of Exposure Assessment Science and director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Chan School, worked on a study that showed a correlation between cognitive function and indoor environment.

“The person most responsible for your health is the (facility manager)…more so than any medical doctor,” Allen said. “We spend so much of our time indoors that these people are critical. They can be thought of as healthcare workers because they are responsible for our health—and if that person is doing a good job, they are keeping everybody in that building healthy.”

The Study

In his study, called COGfx (short for cognitive effects), 24 white-collar workers were given cognitive performance tests to compare test-taking in green building office environments versus those with conventional construction.

The green buildings used enhanced air ventilation with low volatile organic compound production and high ventilation, while conventional buildings didn’t have improved ventilation in place. Participants were given daily cognitive assessment tests in areas such as crisis response, strategy development and information usage.

The Results

Based on the study, the workers averaged scores 101 percent higher in enhanced green buildings than not and crisis response scores were 131 percent higher in the enhanced “green” building settings. In information usage tests, scores were 299 percent higher in enhanced air ventilation environments than conventional settings, and were 288 percent higher during strategy tests.

Allen also thinks the study can shine a light on needed focus. “(These results suggest that) even modest improvements to indoor environmental quality may have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers,” he said. “We spend 90 percent of our time indoors, and 90 percent of the cost of a building are the occupants, yet indoor environmental quality and its impact on health and productivity are often an afterthought. We have been ignoring the 90 percent.”