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Avoiding Bad "Air" Days at Work

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October heralds the arrival of many things – the first full month of autumn, cooler weather, leaves changing color, football season in full swing – and Indoor Air Quality Awareness Month.

Perhaps it’s because of the very fact that it is so vital we overlook it, or (usually) so transparent that we can’t see it, but we don’t often stop to think about the air we breathe. Air quality is important for everyone at all times, and that includes the time we spend at work.

Perhaps you’ve heard of “sick building syndrome,” a term first used in the 1980s to refer to health issues linked to improperly designed and ventilated buildings. Although some buildings are now designed with indoor air quality as a consideration (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – LEED), there are many steps employers can take to cut down on the chances of air causing maladies at work regardless of how and when buildings were designed.

Studies conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency comparing 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 among the top five risks on a consistent basis.

In general, most indoor air quality problems in the workplace can be traced to six main sources: 

-Inadequate Ventilation – These problems involve 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, motor vehicle 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 – Emissions from building materials that have just been installed (the familiar phenomenon of gasses emitted by new carpeting is one example). Such issues typically resolve over time, which can be often be lessened by increasing building ventilation.

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 organization works indoors, outdoors, or both, our consultants can determine air quality exposures through monitoring, mapping, surveys and evaluations that include qualitative air contaminant hazard assessments, air monitoring, and quantitative air contaminant exposure assessment.

Ready to know more? Give us a call and start breathing easier.

Mr. Griffith has a received his bachelors degree in Environmental Health from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and president of Workplace Safety & Health Company. He has over 35 years of industrial hygiene, safety, loss control and consulting experience. Chemical monitoring, noise measurement, program development and management, risk assessment and computer management of health and safety data are areas of particular strength. Mr. Griffith is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) at the local and national level. He is also active in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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