When we talk about air quality in today’s world our minds are often brought to images of smog emanating from tailpipes and toxic chemicals coming out of manufacturing facilities. However, air quality issues are actually most acute inside buildings. It’s true, our homes, retail buildings and offices are suffering from indoor air quality issues that cause more wellness and health problems than outdoor air quality in most areas. Thus, today businesses need to focus on how to ensure healthy air quality in their buildings, helping to ensure the comfort and wellness of their employees and clients.
Problems with Air Quality Indoor air quality, sometimes shorted to IAQ, has become a major issue in the workplace today, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Poor IAQ can be damaging to worker’s comfort and health as it can cause symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and irritation of the eyes, nose, lungs and throat. In some indoor environments, particularly those with poor ventilation, specific contamination or moist environments, asthma and allergies can be exasperated and in some cases allergies can even develop where they did not exist before. Of course, with severe exposure to airborne contaminants such as asbestos, mold or radon very serious diseases can result, even leading to the development of cancer after prolonged workplace exposure.
These serious problems are damaging to companies in a variety of ways. First, poor air quality causes workers to feel unwell, which can diminish concentration and effectiveness. Second, poor air quality can lead to actual illness, which can cause missed work and increased health care costs. Third, severe illness can actually lead to lawsuits, as employees seek compensation for unsafe IAQ work conditions.
Factors Leading to Air Problems One of the biggest factors that impacts IAQ is inadequate ventilation; too many offices simply do not recycle their indoor air, bringing in fresh outdoor air. Additional problems, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, include failure to control building temperature, humidity that is too high or low, contamination due to remodeling or repair, and other activities inside or nearby the building which impacts fresh air entering the office. Contamination of office building air can result from biological contaminants (mold, fungi, dust mites, etc.), chemical pollutants (cleaning products, smoke, off-gassing, etc.), or particulates (from printing, manufacturing processes, construction, etc.).
Managing Air Quality One of the most important factors of managing air quality is to ensure ventilation. Simply put, you have to bring in fresh, outdoor air to keep a workplace healthy. Today, we are often so concerned with energy efficiency that buildings are locked up so tight that fresh air cannot find its way in. Commercial and office buildings must have some type of air exchange system in place.
Filtration can also be an option. HVAC systems should have quality filters that are maintained properly. In some buildings, depending upon the conditions, filtration systems may be a good option. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests the following things that every employee can do to assist with office IAQ:
- Do not block air vents. Keep supply vents and returns unblocked so that the HVAC system can work properly.
- Comply with building smoking policies. Smoke only in designated areas.
- Clean up water spills and maintain water areas such as plants, refrigerators or water coolers. Standing water or damp carpeting/drywall can encourage the growth of various micro-organisms such as mold and fungi which can cause IAQ issues.
- Dispose of garbage promptly and properly. Do not allow trash to pile up inside the building or near entrances or ventilation areas.
- Notify a supervisor or building maintenance if you become aware of a potential problem. Letting someone know of a potential problem earlier can help resolve an issue before it becomes a problem.
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