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
• 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.