A Basic Overview Of “Indoor Air Quality”
The energy crisis during the 1970s created a need for environmental reform. Among other topics, indoor air quality became a line item on the agenda for change. Today, workplace IAQ broadly refers to the quality of air in any place of employment. Business owners, building administrators, company management and employees all hold a responsibility in seeing that the quality of air in the place in which they conduct business is clean and contaminant-free. This is important not only for the welfare of the building occupants but for their guests and patrons, as well.
What is considered “good” IAQ? According to OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, good IAQ has the following qualities: (1)
- Comfortable temperature and humidity
- Proper indoor ventilation
- Adequate supply of fresh outdoor air
- Pollutant control from both inside and out
Most industries are diligent about providing a clean and unpolluted environment for their workers. But pollution has a way of existing without ever being seen. Here are some common causes of unclean air in the workplace: (2)
- Improperly maintained HVAC systems
- Office/workspace overcrowding
- Gas fumes/toxins
- Presence of workplace created contaminants
- Presence of external pollutants
The types of pollutants are variable and depend on the workplace and the activities produced therein. Common pollutants generally fall into one (or more) of three main categories: biological, chemical, and particulate. (3) These pollutants are caused by a myriad of job-related activities that can produce the release of fumes and vapors, particle discharge, and humidity fluctuations. In addition, faulty equipment, the growth of molds and bacteria, remodeling or restoration efforts, and all day-to-day actions of people at work further affect the environmental atmosphere. (4)
Many jobs deal with and produce toxins and particulate matter as a matter of course. Manufacturers create and come into contact with contaminants non-stop. Some of the most dangerous IAQ offenders are – but are not limited to –
Asbestos – from insulation and ceiling and floor tiles
Carbon Dioxide & Carbon Monoxide – from improperly functioning utilities and piping
Formaldehyde – and other chemical fumes from items like carpeting, particleboard and furniture
VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) – such as gases from fragrances, solvents and paints
Identifying Poor IAQ
Failure to identify potential IAQ offenders and clues of contaminated air will eventually result in health problems for the people who work inside the buildings. Recognizing symptoms is the first step in combating the problem.
Signs of illness usually start gradually. Some workers may complain about workday symptoms – like headaches or confusion – that clear up when they get home. Other indicators like fever, respiratory discomfort, and chronic cough may linger and be indicative of a more serious problem. But the symptoms related to dirty air are variable and depend on the health of the worker, the contaminant they are in contact with and the amount of time spent with said pollutant.
Knowledge is power for the American worker and having all the facts is required to maintain a clean indoor environment. Federal organizations such as OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (a division of the CDC) exist for the sole purpose of educating the workforce about occupational hazards and for creating and implementing standards to keep workers safe while doing their jobs. To that end, both organizations recommend a proactive approach to addressing indoor environmental concerns. Failure to act quickly when IAQ problems present themselves, can lead to additional and potentially more serious problems.
At AIR Systems Inc, we serve our customers by providing indoor air quality management solutions in addition to our stellar air cleaning products. Call us today for a free air quality assessment with one of our skilled and experienced indoor environmental specialists. (5)