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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Indoor 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.

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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