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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.

Posted by on in Industrial Hygiene Consulting

Since the energy crisis of the mid-1970s, indoor air quality (IAQ) has become a common discussion point when it comes to keeping workplaces safe and healthy for their employees. In a past blog, we discussed the main sources of IAQ in the workplace, including building location, inadequate ventilation and hazardous material. OSHA also identifies these key attributes that lead to IAQ complaints:

• Improperly operated and maintained heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems
• Overcrowding
• Radon
• Moisture incursion and dampness
• Presence of outside air pollutants
• Presence of internally generated contaminates

Here are some typical Frequently Asked Questions concerning IAQ according to OSHA:

1. What is “Indoor Air Quality”?
Indoor air quality, also called indoor environmental quality, describes how the inside air can affect a person’s health, comfort and ability to work. It can include temperature, humidity, poor ventilation (lack of outside air), mold or exposure to other chemicals.

2. What are the most common causes of IAQ problems?
The most common causes are not enough ventilation, which includes not allowing enough fresh outdoor air to come in or contaminated air being brought into the building; poor upkeep of ventilation and HVAC systems; dampness and moisture due to water damage or high humidity; construction or remodeling; and indoor and outdoor contaminated air.

3. How can I tell if there is an IAQ issue at my workplace?
Do you notice your own symptoms, such as headaches and sinus issues, when you are at work, but they clear up after you leave the building? This could be a sign that the air contains contaminants. A couple other signs include unpleasant or musty odors, or the building is hot and stuffy.

4. Is there a test that can find an IAQ problem?
Even though there are specific tests for asbestos and radon, the majority of IAQ issues requires more measurements being checked, including temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide concentrations and air flow, as well as inspections and testing of the ventilation and HVAC systems. It’s also a good idea to do a building walk-through to check for odors and look for leaks and water damage.

5. What should I do if I think there is an IAQ problem at work?
Ask your employer to check the ventilation, HVAC systems and to make sure there is no water damage. Even though OSHA does not have specific IAQ standards, under the Act, it is your employer’s responsibility to provide workers with a safe workplace that does not have any known hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious injury. You also have the right to contact OSHA and request a workplace inspection.

The importance of the air we breathe is many times taken for granted. Indoor air quality (IAQ) is essential in the workplace, and if air quality is poor, the health and productivity of your employees will most likely decrease.

A Harvard School of Public Health study in 2015 discovered that people who work in well-ventilated offices have significantly higher cognitive function scores when responding to a crisis or developing a strategy. Those working in “green” conditions, which included enhanced ventilation and conditions with increased levels of CO2 had, on average, double the cognitive function scores of those participants who worked in conventional environments.

Reduced cognitive functioning abilities aren’t the only issue when IAQ is poor. Poor air quality in the workplace also causes such symptoms as allergic reactions, physical fatigue, headaches and eye and throat irritation. These health problems are costly to a business as they often lead to higher levels of absenteeism.

The main sources of poor air quality in the workplace include the following:

Building location – if located close to a highway, on previous industrial sites or on an elevated water table can cause dust and soot particles, dampness and water leaks, as well as chemical pollutants

Hazardous materials – even though asbestos has been banned for several years, it is still present in many public buildings; it is estimated that 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos in the workplace

Inadequate ventilation – IAQ is very dependent on an effective, well-maintained ventilation system that circulates and replaces used air with fresh air; if the system is not working correctly, it can lead to increased infiltration of pollution particles and humid air

Although OSHA does not have specific IAQ standards, it does have standards about ventilation and standards on some of the air contaminants that can be involved in IAQ issues. And the General Duty Clause of the Act itself requires employers to provide workers with a safe workplace that does not have any known hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious injury.

Even though there is no single test to find an IAQ issue, there are measures that can be taken, as well as inspections on the ventilation and HVAC systems and a building walk-through to check for odors and look for tell-tale signs of water damage and leaks. Workplace Safety & Health’s mission is to provide our clients with premier occupational safety and health services designed to reduce workplace injuries and illnesses, which promotes client profitability. Give us a call at 317-253-9737.

 

Tagged in: IAQ Indoor Air Quality

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