Indoor air quality is of concern in the workplace. Recent studies have shown that indoor air is often much more polluted than outdoor air. Since more time is spent in doors than out, indoor air quality is a major concern. Changes in building technology to conserve energy have created buildings that are more airtight. These changes coupled with increased use of materials and products that add more volatile compounds to the air add to the problems of indoor air quality. Poorly maintained ventilation systems often create a favorable environment for mold and bacterial growth. Poor indoor air quality has been connected with respiratory problems, headaches, fatigue, and a host of other health complaints.


Cost to the Employer

Poor indoor air quality is costly to health and to the employer. Even when the health symptoms caused by poor indoor air quality are not serious, the cost to the employer is reflected in lost days from work, decreased productivity, and expenses of investigating complaints.

When serious problems arise from poor indoor air quality, the costs both to the employee and the employer increases. Employers may be faced with losing a skilled employees, Workers Compensation claims, and accommodation issues. There can be a general disruption at the workplace. An employer that takes a pro-active approach can prevent many problems. It is often easier to prevent problems, than it is to solve them once they occur.


Preventing IAQ Problems


Many IAQ problems stem from ventilation problems. Blocked air intakes and dirty filters are common causes of poor air exchange. Maintaining ventilation systems are an important way to maintain good air quality. Frequently air exchange is decreased to save money on heating and air conditioning costs. These practices are unsafe and can cause serious air quality problems. Filters should be changed routinely. Air intakes should be free from obstruction. There should be adequate air exchange.

Condensation in ducts can provide ideal growing conditions for molds and bacteria. Then the spores can be circulated throughout the facilities causing respiratory symptoms and allergic reactions. Serious illness and even death can be caused by bacterial and fungal growth. Prevention of the conditions for growth of these organisms is much less expensive than getting rid of them.


Building Materials

Materials used in building and remodeling can add to indoor air pollution. The glues and solvents used in manufacture of many of building materials give off formaldehyde and solvents. These volatile compounds can cause health problems. New construction and remodeling can create serious air quality problems.

Wise choices of building materials can prevent many problems. Carpet and other materials need to be evaluated before purchasing to be certain off gassing will not be a problem. Where possible options other than carpet should be considered. Carpets are an ongoing source of problems. Glues and materials used in the manufacture of carpet are often a source of formaldehyde and other volatile emissions. Carpet cleaners often add to the load of indoor air pollutants. Carpet creates ideal environments for mold and fungal growth.


Cleaning and Maintenance

Cleaning products typically contain petroleum distillates. These products add to indoor air pollution. Air deodorizers are a common source of paradichlorobenzene, which causes cancer in animals. So products that are used to "clean" and "freshen" the air in fact do the opposite. They are significant polluters of indoor air. Many cleaning products contain toxic chemicals and these chemicals end up in the air.

Avoiding fragranced cleaners and using the least toxic products are important in maintaining good air quality. Finding the source of stale odors and eliminating them is a much better choice than using air fresheners, which mask the odor, and adds to the pollution. Ventilation will solve most cases of stale air and decrease the concentration of pollutants. Cleaning products should be stored in a well-ventilated area. The containers should be tightly closed.

People Pollution

One frequently overlooked source of indoor air pollution is people and the products they use. The average person uses a wide variety of products that contain volatile compounds that get into the air. Fragranced products by nature are volatile. This means they get into the air. So everywhere someone goes, they leave a little bit of their fragranced products behind. While it may be only a small amount for each product, the accumulative results can be staggering.

Most people on a daily basis use soap, shampoo, deodorant, laundry products, hair spray, lotions, cosmetics, and fragrances. Multiply this in the workplace setting and there is exposure to literally hundreds of fragranced products. Most fragrance chemicals are respiratory irritants. They are known triggers for asthma, allergies, and migraines. Even for those without significant pre-existing health problems they can cause irritation of the upper airways, eye symptoms, and general malaise at levels found in ambient room air.

Of all the indoor air quality issues, that of "people pollution" is the most difficult to deal with. There are a whole range of issues raised such as individual rights, reasonable accommodation, and employee relations. General policies that focus on air quality issues can help greatly. Improving air quality is a non-threatening goal and one that is beneficial to all employees as well as the employer. By being pro-active in this matter, an employer can prevent many problems and provide a healthier environment for its employees.

Ideally this issue can be raised before there are any problems. Then an education process can take place in a non-threatening manner. Many people have simply never thought of such common products as being a threat to health.


Additional Reading on Indoor Air Quality & Related Issues:

Everyday Exposures to Toxic Pollutants

Fragrance Qualities of Colognes


Carpeting, Indoor Air Quality, and the Environment

Health Risks From Perfumes

EPA Indoor Air Quality

Indoor Air Quality: Straight Talk from the UFT



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