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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in air quality

The goal of Air Quality Awareness Week, which is Monday, April 29-Friday, May 3 this year, is to promote events that increase air quality awareness and inspire people to take steps, big and small ones, to reduce their contribution to air pollution. Air pollution is not just outdoor motor vehicle and factory emissions, but inside as well, and frequently, indoor air can contain higher concentrations of hazardous pollutants than outdoor air.

So, let’s take a look at some of the top indoor air pollutants affecting workplace health and some tips on what you can do to help eliminate them.

Mold

Molds are all around us and are part of the natural environment, playing an important role in breaking down organic matter, such as decomposing organic matter. We would not have certain foods or even medicines without mold, but mold growth indoors can negatively affect a facility or workplace in many ways. Toxic mold can cause health problems such as itchy eyes, coughing, sneezing, skin rashes, headaches, fatigue, and can even cause respiratory issues including wheezing and asthma.

Mold is often times hidden – thriving in damp, dark places such as attics, crawl spaces, behind walls, in ceilings, underneath sinks and appliances and beneath wallpaper and carpet. To combat this indoor air pollutant, the facility should schedule regular mold inspections with a qualified mold specialist.

Dust and Allergens

Dust and indoor allergens are plentiful, and an estimated 50 million Americans are allergic to everything from dust and dander, to mold and mites. Allergy symptoms include sneezing, coughing and itchy eyes.

Best steps to help lessen indoor allergens is to have a clean office space, including frequent vacuuming (HEPA vacuuming can be even more effective). For the individual worker, cleaning around your work area on a regular basis with a wet cloth can significantly reduce the build-up of dust and allergens.

Cleaning Products and Chemicals

While cleaning your office is essential to cut down on dust and indoor allergens, the cleaning products being used often contain harsh chemicals that can irritate your skin and affect your breathing. In many cases, office cleaning happens when most of the staff is not at work, but if you are present or if you are the one performing the cleaning, you may want to wear protective eyewear and gloves.

Smoke

Nowadays smoking is not allowed in most office buildings, but that doesn’t mean you won’t run into cigarette smoke while walking in and out of the buildings as people take their smoking breaks. You may also be exposed to different types of smoke that can negatively affect your health, including working with equipment that can emit carbon monoxide and other toxic agents. In such situations, proper ventilation is necessary.

Everyone deserves to live and work in a healthy environment, which definitely includes safe breathing air. Airborne irritants and toxic chemicals can certainly affect employees’ health and their productivity. It is essential for everyone to be aware of the types of indoor air pollutants that may be present and take steps to combat their negative effects.

Two million poisonings are reported to poison centers across the United States each year, and since 1961, the third week in March has been dedicated as National Poison Prevention Week to create awareness. Even though childhood fatalities from accidental poisoning has dropped significantly through the years, the rate of fatalities due to accidental poisoning in all age groups has more than tripled in the past 50 years. Accidental poisoning is now the most common cause of accidental death in America.

Much of the increase is attributed to fatal drug overdoses, both legal and illegal drugs. Our blog, The Opioid Crisis and the Workplace, discussed how this crisis is affecting the workplace. Even though the number of what one would classify as a workplace fatality to poisoning is relatively small when compared to unintentional drug overdoses, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates more than 50,000 employees die each year from long-term occupational hazards such as chemical exposures.

There are four different categories of occupational hazards classified as poisons:
1. Agricultural and industrial chemicals
2. Drugs and healthcare products
3. Radiation
4. Biological poisons

When thinking about these four possible poisons, there are few industries that could completely escape exposing their employees to them, so keep these tips in mind to protect your employees:
• Ventilate work areas where hazardous substances are used and stored
• Enclose hazardous operations to prevent dangerous vapors from escaping into areas where employees are, so they do not breath in such vapors
• Restrict entry into hazardous areas to only those who are authorized, trained and properly equipped to do so
• Require the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) specifically designed to protect one against the specific hazardous substance employees are working with
• Use proper decontamination procedures to prevent exposures to poisons and the risk of spreading contamination throughout the workplace…or even into your employees’ homes, affecting their families

Each year, OSHA comes out with their Top 10 Violations, and both Hazard Communication and Respiratory Protection are consistently on this list, so even though National Poison Prevention Week is touted as March 17-23 this year, it’s something we all should be doing every week. Need help or guidance? Workplace Safety and Health, Inc. is ready – call us at 317-253-9737.

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October is National Indoor Air Quality Month, an observance aimed at drawing attention to the quality of what we breathe every day. It’s comes at an appropriate time, as the outdoor weather starts to turn colder and many of us will tend to spend an increasing amount of time outside of work by staying indoors.

Many people spend much of their working hours indoors year round, of course. In recent years, public health authorities have taken a critical look at what we are breathing at the office. Not surprisingly, a growing body of research suggests that poor air quality has a negative impact on health and productivity. In the 1980s, the term Sick Building Syndrome was coined to describe multiple health issues linked to improperly designed and/or ventilated buildings. These include ailments such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, or eye/throat irritation – symptoms that may cease after an occupant leaves the building.

Studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that sought to compare the risks of environmental threats to public health show that indoor air pollution from sources such as secondhand smoke, radon, organic compounds, and biological pollutants are consistently among the top five factors.

In general, most indoor air quality problems in the workplace can be traced to six main sources:
-Inadequate Ventilation – This involves lack of adequate fresh air and uneven distribution of fresh air within a structure.
-Humidity and Temperature – These concerns involve levels outside the normal range of human comfort.
-Inside Contamination – Possible sources of contamination include office equipment such as copy machines, office and cleaning supplies, and chemicals that are stored indoors.
-Outside Contamination – As the name suggests, this includes contaminants brought into a work environment, such as by means of an improper air intake or changes in wind conditions (for example, exhaust gases drawn into a ventilation system).
-Microbial Contamination – This is typically associated with water leaks, water infiltration, increased humidity indoors, humidifiers, and contaminated ventilation ductwork – places that can harbor and encourage the growth of microbes.
-New Building Materials – The results from building materials that have just been installed (the familiar phenomenon of gasses emitted by new carpeting is one example). In new construction, processes known as “bakeout and “flushout” employ an unoccupied building’s heating, venting and air conditioning system to expedite the process of venting these gasses.

Fortunately, technology can also be employed to monitor and assess air quality in a building long after everyone has moved in.

At Workplace Safety & Health Co., our primary concern is to help our customers reduce injuries and illnesses while promoting their profitability through sound health and safety management practices. That includes helping to identify and manage risks posed by air quality. Whether your workplace is indoors, outdoors, or both, our consultants can determine air quality exposures through monitoring, mapping, fact-finding surveys and evaluations that include qualitative exposure assessments, and air monitoring surveys. So call us. And start breathing easier.

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Air Quality Awareness Week, usually held the last week of April, is an annual opportunity to engage communities in conversations on air pollution and health. Why do we need a themed week to draw our attention to something so basic? Maybe it’s because it’s free, or maybe it’s because we usually can’t see it, but we often take our air for granted. Air quality obviously is important for everyone, everywhere, and that includes the air in a work environment.

One measure of air quality, the Air Quality Index (AQI), can be used to help plan activities outdoors. Finding the day’s AQI report is becoming increasingly easy. It’s available on the Web (http://www.airnow.gov), on many local television weather forecasts, and via free e-mail tools and apps (http://www.enviroflash.info and http://m.epa.gov/apps/airnow.html). After finding the forecast for a local area, checking the health recommendations can show how to reduce the amount of pollution breathed in.

At Workplace Safety & Health Co., our primary concern is to help our customers reduce injuries and illnesses while promoting their profitability through sound health and safety management practices – and that includes helping to identify and manage risks posed by air quality. Whether your employees’ work environment is indoors, outdoors, or both, our consultants can determine your business's air quality exposures through monitoring, mapping, surveys and evaluations that include qualitative air contaminant hazard assessments, air monitoring, and quantitative air contaminant exposure assessment. Give us a call and breathe easier.

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Air quality is important for everyone, but it is of special concern for those who must work in confined spaces.

A total of four farmer deaths in hog manure pits in July in the Midwest show how even a routine job in a confined space can turn tragic. In the first in incident, in Wisconsin, a father and son were killed from exposure to toxic gases while trying to retrieve something dropped into a manure pit. In the more recent case, in Iowa, another father and son died from exposure to toxic gases when one attempted to rescue the other. Although the incidents occurred in agricultural operations, they illustrate the potential for the rescuers of the initial victim overcome by toxic gases in a confined space to become victims also.

Such pits can release methane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide as well as hydrogen sulfide when disturbed, risking exposure that can lead to unconsciousness and death. Farm safety experts commonly recommend the use of some form of breathing apparatus when working in that environment for those reasons.

Some other examples of confined spaces include storage tanks, sewers, manholes, tunnels, ship voids, pipelines, silos, wells, and trenches. A permit-required confined space has to have one or more specific characteristics, one being that it contains a hazardous atmosphere. These are classified into three categories: toxic; asphyxiating; and flammable or explosive atmospheres. Depending on the chemicals present and their concentration, such environments can present multiple atmospheric hazards.

For those reasons, it is recommended that employers in a number of industries test and monitor their confined spaces at multiple levels with instruments that will detect aspects of hazardous atmospheres encountered by anyone who plans to enter. The ability to perform non-entry rescue is also critical to prevent the loss of would-be rescuers. This involves the entrant wearing a full body harness connected to a confined space-applicable retrieval device mounted outside the space, so that the attendant can remove an unconscious entrant without having to enter the confined space.

The practice of atmospheric testing in confined spaces to determine potential hazards is not new – bringing a caged canary into a coalmine is perhaps the best known example from history. Today’s testing equipment and procedures skip the canary, but they serve a similar purpose. Modern sensor and battery technology has improved the reliability of these instruments and has made them easier to use at a lower price point. For the occasional user, they can be rented from a number of safety equipment rental companies. This approach is sound since the rental companies will maintain and calibrate the instruments as recommended by the manufacturer. Using an unreliable and out-of-calibration toxic and combustible gas meter can almost be worse than using none at all since a faulty meter may provide a false sense of security.

Workplace Safety & Health Co. is equipped to identify and assess the hazards of suspected confined spaces in your facility, determine whether each meets the OSHA criteria for a confined space, and if so, whether it should be permit-required. Workplace Safety & Health Co. can also pre-test the atmosphere in accessible spaces to provide advanced warning that additional precautions may be needed prior to entering a confined space.

With our experience in assessing thousands of confined spaces in a wide range of industries, Workplace Safety & Health Co. can help your organization attain a “best practice” level of compliance. Give us a call or visit our website today to learn more.

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