Clean Air - A basic human right

If improved productivity and workplace satisfaction isn’t enough to convince your employer that good air quality is a worthy investment, it might be worth mentioning that a lack of action could be a breach of your human rights.

In 1946, 61 states from across the world signed the Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO), which declared: “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition”.

This doesn’t just mean access to healthcare or protection from certain diseases, but a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”. Various studies have shown that persistent exposure to contaminated air can lead to a decline in all three.

The right to healthy indoor air

In 2000, WHO published a report titled The right to healthy indoor air, which recognised the impact that inadequate air quality can have on our health and wellbeing. 

The report intended to create a set of principles on the right to healthy indoor air based on guiding human rights, ethics and sustainability principles, in a bid to educate the public.

The principles can be read in full here. However, in short, these principles declare that:

1. Everyone has the right to breathe healthy indoor air.

2. Everyone has the right to information about potentially harmful exposure, and effective means of controlling exposure.

3. Agents that pose an unnecessary health risk shouldn’t be introduced to indoor air.

4. Those responsible for a building must work to provide acceptable air quality for its occupants.

5. Occupants shouldn’t be denied access to healthy air based on their socioeconomic status.

6. Those responsible for a building are responsible for assessing air quality and its impact on occupants.

7. Preventative measures should be taken if there is any potential risk of harm.

8. Those responsible for the pollution are accountable for any resulting harm to health or wellbeing.

9. Providing healthy indoor air shouldn’t cause environmental damage.

Principles four and six should be of particular interest to you and your employer. Not only do you have a right to healthy indoor air, but it is also the responsibility of your employer to both monitor and improve the air quality in your workplace.

Unfortunately, not all businesses follow the rules

If your employee is making use of AERIC’s smart air quality devices, this suggests that they’re likely taking their responsibility towards your health and wellbeing seriously. However, that isn’t the case in all workplaces.

In the United Kingdom, 70% of office workers claim poor air quality is having a negative impact on their productivity and wellbeing. In the United States, 40% of workers have been forced to take a day off due to inadequate indoor air.

In fact, WHO claims that more than 80% of people living in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels below what the organisation deems to be safe. This includes 56% in high-income cities, such as those across Europe, and rises to 98% in low- and middle-income countries.

Despite WHO’s best efforts, the lack of improvement over the past 20 years is likely still a result of a lack of knowledge regarding our human right to clean air. 

With the United Nations (UN) having declared that countries have a “legal obligation” to provide their citizens with clean air last year, it is only so long before governments, organisations, business owners, and building managers are forced to take note and make changes that benefit us all.