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.