Australians spend 90 per cent or more of their time indoors, which is why it is so surprising that there has been relatively little research on the quality of air within the spaces where we live, work, study, train, and shop.

This is concerning because worldwide, an estimated 3.8 million premature deaths[1]  are caused each year by indoor air pollution, with an untold number of us suffering from harm to wellbeing every day — simply because of the air we breathe while indoors.

Whilst so many office workers have been able to shift to remote and flexible work, our frontline workers, including retail staff, have had to continue working in close contact with other staff and members of the public.

Retail workers have also been at the forefront of the much publicised ‘Great Resignation’, as many staff are reported to be leaving these customer-facing roles in droves. Part of this being because workers who are concerned about being infected with COVID-19 at work are more likely to be affected by emotional exhaustion, a key symptom of burnout. In 2020, 77% of Australian employees[i] reported experiencing burnout at least once.

So, what more can be done to make retail staff feel safer indoors, while at the same time convincing consumers to step away from their screens and back into stores?

When it comes to keeping staff and customers safe, there needs to be a 360 approach to hygiene, including hand and surface hygiene, mask-wearing, vaccination, and social distancing, but critically, also making sure the air we breathe is as clean and safe as possible.

A great example of how cleaner air is creating safer spaces and allowing life to return to ‘COVID-normal’ was seen at this year’s Australian Open. In an Australian-first for a major international sporting event, Rentokil Initial teamed up with Tennis Australia as the Grand Slam’s Official Hygiene Partner. Alongside 800 touch-free hand sanitisers and antibacterial wipe stations, 70 VIRUSKILLERTM air purification devices were also installed throughout the precinct’s indoor areas and retail outlets.

The VIRUSKILLERTM devices, which not only purify, but also filter, decontaminate and safely disinfect indoor air, were strategically positioned throughout the precinct to provide players, staff, spectators, and event retailers – including the likes of Ralph Lauren, Adidas and New Era – with greater real-time protection from airborne viruses and bacteria.

As a leading activation site for pop-up retail boasting big name international brands, it was an exciting time to witness the role air purification technology can play in helping to slow the spread of airborne diseases like COVID-19. During the course of the tournament, and despite an ongoing Omicron outbreak, we even saw crowd capacity lifted from 50 per cent to 65 per cent as infections began to ease.

Internationally, VIRUSKILLERTM technology has also been embraced by well-known organisations and brands, including at London’s O2 Arena during last year’s BRIT Awards, as well as at Fortnum & Mason, the Hyatt Hotel Group, McDonalds Belgium, Aviva Stadium Ireland and DHL.

If we continue to look overseas to more COVID-mature markets for future guidance, countries like Belgium and Ireland are passing laws mandating that businesses need to provide clean air on their premises. From next year, in France, all indoor spaces will be required to monitor their indoor air quality.

While some European countries are taking steps in the right direction, most countries – including Australia – do not have plans in place to monitor indoor air quality, let alone to implement minimum indoor air quality standards. This is concerning, particularly as experts say that air quality could be as important as vaccination in the battle against the virus.

Investing in clean air stretches far beyond addressing the threat of the Omicron variant. Over the past two years, we’ve seen first-hand the devastation that airborne disease can have on our economy, our livelihoods, and our health. However, it’s not just COVID-19, there are many different indoor air pollutants that can make us sick, from bacteria, dust, pollen, gases, fumes to mould, and air purification is an effective way of tackling these year-round.

Depending on a variety of factors, from natural airflow to the size of the space, you can invest in clean air from as little as just over $2 per day, or for less than a flat white. For this price, the return on investment delivered by a long-term air hygiene strategy cannot be underestimated – access to clean, pollutant-free air is known to positively impact people’s health, concentration, performance and satisfaction levels, as well as resulting in fewer missed days of work. This is key to safeguarding the workforce of key industry sectors, including retail.

Over the coming months, as the nation begins to return once again to ‘COVID-normal’, we would urge Aussie retailers to take to action to address poor indoor air quality across locations from head offices, to bricks and mortar stores and warehouses. This is a critical step in keeping doors open in these challenging times.

We have come to expect clean, fresh drinking water as standard, so why not the air we breathe every day indoors?

Find out more here.

Andrew Stone is managing director for Pacific at Rentokil Initial.

[1] World Health Organization. “Household air pollution and health.” WHO. 2018.

[i] Australia and New Zealand Anatomy of Work Index 2021.