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

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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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