A lot of factors need to be considered when creating a healthy work environment. Aside from crafting a good workplace culture and team communication, environmental aspects like indoor air quality (IAQ) that affect occupational health and safety also need to be prioritized. If you’re making efforts to improve your office building’s indoor air quality, you need to understand the different factors that can influence it, and volatile organic compounds are certainly some of them. 

What are volatile organic compounds? 

The US Environmental Protection Agency describes volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as compounds that have a high vapor pressure and low water solubility. Many VOCs in office are commonly released by man-made sources such as:

  • Wall paints
  • Solvents
  • Pesticides
  • Cleaning chemicals
  • Air fresheners
  • Refrigerants
  • Photocopiers
  • Furniture
  • Fabrics

The most common examples of VOCs include: 

  • Butanal 
  • Acetone
  • Acetic Acid 
  • Ethanol
  • Benzene
  • Toluene
  • Hexane 

VOCs and TVOCs

Since there are hundreds of VOCs, there is no pragmatic way to separately measure them continuously. Thus, a measurement known as TVOC or total volatile organic compound to measure the overall VOC level in a given facility. 

The effects of VOCs on human health depend on various factors including the type of VOC, the level or the amount present, period of exposure, and the vulnerability of the person. 

Short-term exposure to volatile organic compounds may include less serious symptoms such as: 

  • Eyes, nose, and throat irritation
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Skin problems
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath

Prolonged exposure can cause major health issues including lung cancer, intense asthma attacks, and other respiratory illnesses.

If your office building’s indoor air quality remains poor and your employees are starting to fall ill, it is indeed clear that their work performance and productivity will also suffer. Employees who are frequently ill take more sick leaves, while some may continue to do the work, the quality of their output will indeed get negatively affected. 

Reducing VOCs in the office 

While it may not be possible to completely eliminate VOCs and its sources, there are effective ways that business owners and facility managers can do to manage VOCs and improve an office building’s indoor air quality:

  • Increase ventilation to allow fresh air to enter inside a building while removing stale indoor air. 
  • Store cleaning chemicals, pesticides, and air fresheners in sealed containers
  • Purchase second-hand office furniture as off-gassing from new furniture often occurs in the first few years of the life-cycle of the product
  • Monitor TVOC levels. Indoor air quality monitors with TVOC sensors can help you measure the presence and levels of TVOCs in your facility. By having the right IAQ data, you can identify the potential source of air pollutants and adjust your indoor environment based on your office building’s indoor air quality requirements. 

Prioritizing indoor air quality in your office is one of the smartest steps that you can take to protect employee health, ensure their productivity, and boost your business’ performance. Suspecting that your office has high levels of TVOCs? Install uHoo Aura to find out! 



  1. www.livescience.com
  2. www.epa.gov
  3. www.ccohs.ca
  4. www.achievers.com
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