An American study has demonstrated that a high-quality indoor environment has a significant and positive impact on cognitive function.

Improved indoor environmental quality doubled participants’ scores in cognitive function tests, according to a study by researchers at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University.

The study, The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function, found that employees’ cognitive performance scores averaged 101 per cent higher in green building environments with enhanced ventilation when compared with a conventional building environment.

“We know that green buildings conserve natural resources, minimise environmental impacts and improve the indoor environment,” said John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer at sponsoring organisation United Technologies, “but these results show that they can also become important human resource tools for all indoor environments where cognitive abilities are critical to productivity, learning and safety.”

The double-blind study evaluated the cognitive performance of 24 participants who experienced conditions in a laboratory setting that simulated those found in conventional and green buildings, as well as green buildings with enhanced ventilation.

Researchers measured basic, applied, and focused activity levels; task orientation; crisis response; information seeking; information usage; breadth of approach; and strategy. The largest improvements in cognitive function occurred in the areas of crisis response, information use, and strategy.

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Higher penalties for some serious health and safety offences could be possible under new sentencing guidelines.

The guidelines, published by the Sentencing Council, aim to ensure a consistent, fair and proportionate approach to sentencing organisations or individuals convicted of corporate manslaughter, health and safety and food safety and hygiene offences.

Suggested fines could reach £20 million for corporate manslaughter offences for organisations with a turnover of more than £50 million, and £10 million for the most serious health and safety offences, according to the guidance.

The guidance says the fine “must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with health and safety legislation”.

There has been limited guidance for judges and magistrates dealing with these types of offences, and the new guidelines aim to cover the most commonly sentenced health and safety offences and food safety offences in England and Wales.

The type of offences that will come under the guidelines include a building firm that causes the death of an employee by not providing the proper equipment for working at height, a restaurant that causes an outbreak of E. coli poisoning through unsafe food preparation, a manufacturer that causes injury to a new worker by not providing training for operating machinery or a gas fitter whose sub-standard work leads to the risk of an explosion in someone’s home.

Prison sentences for individuals convicted of very serious offences are possible, but most offences are committed by organisations, so fines are the only sentence that can be given.

However, the Sentencing Council added that it did not anticipate higher fines across the board, or that they would be significantly higher than current fines in the majority of cases.

The Sentencing Council said that the increase in penalties for serious offences was because some offenders had not received fines that properly reflected the crimes they committed.

Under the guidelines, turnover, profit margin, the potential impact on employees or on the ability of the offender to improve problems or make restitution to victims, along with the degree of culpability and amount of harm done would be considered when fines are imposed.

Sentencing Council member Michael Caplan QC said: “These guidelines will introduce a consistent approach to sentencing, ensuring fair and proportionate sentences for those who cause death or injury to their employees and the public or put them at risk. These offences can have very serious consequences and it is important that sentences reflect these.”

The guidelines will come into force in courts on 1 February 2016

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