Improving indoor air quality is a key solution for warehouse owners to increase employee productivity, safety and health.
Market drivers, including the COVID pandemic and online retailing, continue to push the warehousing industry. Calls for speed to market and agility in adjusting to conditions in the marketplace have executives searching for answers. The warehouse industry has increasingly adopted warehouse management systems, automation, robotics, and other technology to increase productivity. These applications are critical but only address the mechanical aspect of the solution. The often-overlooked factor is the human condition caused by indoor air quality (IAQ).
IAQ? In the warehouse? Yes.
IAQ (and employee comfort) have a significant impact on productivity and efficiency in the human aspect of warehouse operations. Poor air quality contributes to lower productivity and is caused by a host of reasons including,
- Exhaust fumes from delivery vehicles and diesel or propane forklifts
- Poorly designed and maintained ventilation and HVAC systems
- Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) released from products stored on racks, packaging materials, material handling or manufacturing processes
- Mold caused by high humidity and poor air circulation
These issues can cause breathing problems, colds, allergies, a foggy mental state, disease spread and others. At a minimum, poor IAQ can contribute to higher use of sick days, more accidents and higher employee turnover. Poor IAQ also can result in mold growth on products and compromise packaging integrity.
Improving Warehouse IAQ
An easy and simple solution to improving IAQ can be addressed in some cases, by opening dock doors to allow fresh air to enter. However, new warehouse facilities are generally larger and ventilation from open doors does not distribute fresh air throughout the entire space. Additionally, challenges such as weather, pollution, even security tend to prevent such a simple solution. Mechanical ventilation—in varying degrees—is a preferable solution.
Many mechanical options exist that promote IAQ, and HVAC manufacturers continue to develop new technologies. It is a matter of determining the best choices for your application. A few technologies designed to enhance IAQ include:
- High volume low speed (HVLS) fans. HVLS fans provide large amounts of airflow throughout a space with nothing more than a gentle breeze. This fan is popular because it can cover large areas and provide thermal comfort for employees at a relatively low cost.
- Mixed flow fans in supply air-handlers. A mixed flow fan allows HVAC equipment to maintain airflow levels needed, without the need for larger, more expensive products to accomplish the same goal.
- Motor technology. The electronically commutated (EC) motor used in ventilation products offer a more efficient means of providing the required airflow at lower operating costs.
- Needlepoint bipolar ionization. This technology can be integrated into HVAC systems and produces ions that defend against gaseous and particulate contaminates in the air, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and odors.
- Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI). UVGI is a disinfection method that can be integrated into HVAC systems that uses short-wavelength ultraviolet (ultraviolet C or UV-C) light to kill or inactivate microorganisms such as viruses, mold or bacteria.
These newer technologies enhance the value of a well-designed HVAC system for warehouse operations, providing many tangible benefits to employees and owners.
Before detailing those benefits, let’s review what makes up a well-designed HVAC system. A well-designed HVAC system uses a variety of passive and mechanical equipment to maintain a consistent IAQ level. Individual products vary by geography and climate. However, all well-designed HVAC systems include various air movement, control and conditioning equipment that produces the following benefits.
Benefits of a Well-designed Ventilation System
Thermal comfort. A well-designed HVAC system provides thermal comfort to workers inside that space. It means that workers, whether located in a warehouse in Duluth, Minnesota or a warehouse in Miami, FL are neither too hot nor too cold. Providing thermal comfort to workers regardless of location or season; improves concentration, morale and adds to overall productivity.
Healthy indoor air. Warehouses need a constant source of fresh air to prevent worker fatigue and mental fogginess. In addition, proper ventilation also removes and dilutes harmful pollutants, odors, and pathogens that cause illness. These regular air changes improve mental acuity, help avoid accidents and reduce the number of sick days.
Safer workplace. The National Safety Council rates warehouses among the most dangerous workplaces. Slips and falls rank among the most frequent issue and cost between $22,000 and $47,000 per worker compensation claim. A well-designed HVAC system minimizes slips and falls related to moisture issues and sweating slab syndrome, a problem with new and existing concrete slabs.
To summarize, a well-designed HVAC system is essential in a warehouse as it contributes to employee health, productivity, safety and efficiency. Learn more by visiting www.Greenheck.com or by contacting your local Greenheck representative.
About the Author:
Stephen Butina is a Sales Engineering Specialist II at Greenheck, working as part of a team dedicated to the warehouse ventilation market. He is a graduate of Michigan Technological University.