Remedying poor workplace indoor air quality is more of a modern notion, one that did not become a driving force within the medical, environmental, and clean air policy communities until many years after pollution as a healthcare concern became a nationwide talking point.
Mid-century fears about asbestos and lead exposure carried over, making the presence of second-hand tobacco smoke and radon troubling to the next generation. Present-day topics, such as “sick building syndrome”, have been met with the expectation of remediation. And yet, despite the acknowledgement that dirty air can make us sick, the potential for indoor air pollution only increases as it grows alongside advances in industry. One need only look to history for cases that illustrate this point. Post-WWII professions, for example, used greater numbers of chemically based products, which, in turn emitted more toxic fumes into the air. In the building industry, architecture and construction-design improved and tighter and more energy-efficient structures were erected. These new buildings sealed in heat and air but also trapped contaminants. 1 Workers became sick.
By the mid-1960’s, worker health was a concept that entered the public’s consciousness. Lawmakers began to respond. Concerned with the impact on our nation’s workforce, Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA Act). President Nixon signed it into law in 1970. The act covers both the private sector and federal government and requires employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of obvious health hazards. 2
In order to establish standards for worker health, the Act also created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which sets and enforces protective workplace safety and health standards. OSHA is a division of the U.S. Department of Labor that oversees the administration of the Act and enforces standards in all 50 states. OSHA covers private sector laborers in all 50 states and the other U.S. jurisdictions either directly through OSHA or through an OSHA-approved State Plan. State Plans are OSHA-approved job safety and health programs operated by individual states instead of federal OSHA.
The OSHA Act encourages states to develop and operate their own job safety and health programs and precludes state enforcement of OSHA standards unless the state has an OSHA-approved State Plan. Many State Plans adopt standards identical to OSHA but have the option to impose standards beyond those covered by the Federal act. A State Plan must conduct inspections to enforce its standards, cover state and local government workers, and operate occupational safety and health training and education programs. 3
The following 22 states or territories have OSHA-approved State Plans that cover both private and public sector workers:
▪ New Mexico
▪ North Carolina
▪ South Carolina
Six additional states/territories, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and the US Virgin Islands, cover only public sector employees.
OSHA does not have standards specific to indoor air quality but does have policies regarding ventilation and air contaminants. Currently, only two states, Connecticut and New Jersey, have legislation concerning IAQ. 4
But within the OSHA Act, employers are required to provide workers with a safe workplace and observe occupational safety and health standards created under it. As such, employers are expected to be aware of possible polluted air conditions and control any workplace exposures.
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