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Indoor Air Quality: Common Pollutants to Keep in Mind

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Everyone understands there are basic needs in life, including food, water, shelter and air, but what if one of those is contaminated? Let’s take the air in your workplace, for example. Many factors affect indoor air quality (IAQ), including poor ventilation, temperature fluctuation, humidity levels and anything that might be happening outside the workplace, like remodeling or construction work, where that air is being circulated into the building.
Poor IAQ affects our health in a variety of ways, including headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. The common pollutants causing the majority of the poor IAQ are as follows:

• Biological – Excess moisture and damp indoor environments support the growth of bacteria, viruses and fungi, which can lead to a multitude of respiratory issues. Other common biological pollutants include dust mites, animal dander, Legionella, and pollen. These pollutants are found in many indoor workplaces to a certain degree, but inadequate maintenance and upkeep of building ventilation systems can exacerbate the issue.
• Chemical – Gases and vapors are the main sources of chemical pollutants, and they come from five main categories: products used in the building, products that can be pulled from outside into the HVAC system (including sub-slab vapor intrusion), accidental spills, products used during construction activities, and byproducts of combustion such as formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide.
• Particles – Non-biological particles can be anything solid or liquid suspended in the air that could present a respiratory hazard. In most cases, it could be airborne dust drawn into the building’s ventilation system, or if there is indoor construction under way, there will be dust from drywall sanding, wood sawing, etc.

As you can see, there are multiple sources for indoor air pollutants, and OSHA recommends the “Three Lines of Defense” when applying specific actions in the workplace to eliminate potential exposures. The first line of defense, which is the most effective, is eliminating and engineering the hazards out. This would include removal, substitution, and enclosure of pollutant sources – and if the hazard cannot be eliminated, then control the exposure. The second line of defense includes administrative controls, such as limiting the exposure through work schedules, training, and housekeeping. The third line of defense would be the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) – meaning the use of respirators, gloves, protective clothing, eyewear, and footwear.

Good indoor air quality should be a given for your employees. Take some time this month, during IAQ Awareness Month, and make sure your workplace air is healthy and not harmful for your most important assets – your employees! Need help keeping your employees healthy and safe? Then call on us at Workplace Safety & Health Co., Inc. – 317-253-9737.

Mr. Griffith has a received his bachelors degree in Environmental Health from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and president of Workplace Safety & Health Company. He has over 35 years of industrial hygiene, safety, loss control and consulting experience. Chemical monitoring, noise measurement, program development and management, risk assessment and computer management of health and safety data are areas of particular strength. Mr. Griffith is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) at the local and national level. He is also active in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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