Indoor air quality can impact the health, comfort, well-being, and productivity of building occupants, and therefore, is a major concern to businesses, managers, and employees.
As Americans we spend up to 90% of our time indoors and many of us spend much, if not most, of our working hours in an office environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has conducted studies that show how indoor environments sometimes can have levels of pollutants that are actually higher than levels found outside.
Pollutants in our indoor environment can increase the risk of illness. Indoor air pollution is an important environmental health problem, as shown by several scientific studies. And although, severe indoor air quality problems may not be an issue in most buildings, even well-run buildings can sometimes experience times of poor indoor air quality.
In 1989, the EPA reported that improved indoor air quality can result in higher productivity and fewer lost work days. It is also estimated that poor indoor air may cost the nation tens of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and medical care.
All of the occupants of a building can have a great influence on indoor air quality. Something as “everyday” as heating food in a microwave or using the photocopier can generate odors and pollutants. Once we understand and are aware of indoor air issues, we can help prevent these problems.
8 ways to improve the indoor air quality in your office:
Don’t block air vents.
Don’t smoke in building or within 8 feet of any building doorway.
If you have office plants, maintain them.
If you make/see a water spill, clean it up. Water can lead to molds & fungi.
Stay on top of garbage! Dispose of it promptly and regularly.
Don’t leave food out. Store it properly!
Avoid bringing things into the building that has potential to release harmful odors or contaminants.
If you suspect an indoor air quality problem, contact your building manager immediately!
Indoor air quality is a constantly changing interaction of complex factors that affect the types, levels, and importance of pollutants in indoor environments. It is not an easily defined concept, as there are many factors that affect comfort or perception of indoor air quality. Some of the factors include:
- Sources of pollutants or odors
- Design, maintenance, and operation of building ventilation systems
- Moisture and humidity
- Occupant perceptions and susceptibilities
Controlling indoor air quality involves integrating three main strategies.
The first is managing the source of pollutants. You can do so by either removing them from the building or by isolating them from people through physical barriers, air pressure relationships, or by controlling the timing of their use. Secondly, you may dilute pollutants and remove them from the building through ventilation. Lastly, use filtration to clean the air of pollutants.
Minimizing people’s exposure to pollutants is an important goal of an indoor air quality program. Sources of pollutants can be indoor or outdoor. This includes, but is not limited to, building maintenance activities, pest control, housekeeping, renovation or remodeling, new furnishings or finishes, and building occupant activities.
Some of the key categories are:
Allergic responses to indoor biological pollutant exposures cause symptoms in allergic individuals and also play a key role in triggering asthma episodes for an estimated 15 million Americans.
Some pollutants can cause both short and long term health problems. For example, prolonged exposure to environmental tobacco smoke can cause lung cancer, and short term exposures can result in irritation and significant respiratory problems for some people, particularly young children.
It is also important to control moisture and relative humidity in occupied spaces. The presence of moisture and dirt can cause molds and other biological contaminants to thrive.
Besides the factors that directly impact the levels of pollutants to which people are exposed, a number of environmental and personal factors can affect how people perceive air quality. Some of these factors affect both the levels of pollutants and perceptions of air quality.
- Temperature - too hot or cold
- Air velocity and movement - too drafty or stuffy
- Heat or glare from sunlight
- Glare from ceiling lights, especially on monitor screens
- Furniture crowding
- Stress in the workplace or home
- Feelings about physical aspects of the workplace: location, work environment, availability of natural light, and the aesthetics of office design, such as color and style.
- Work space ergonomics, including height and location of computer, and adjustability of keyboards and desk chairs
- Noise and vibration levels
- Selection, location, and use of office equipment
Ask your supervisor or office manager who to talk with if you have a concern about any of these factors. If you do suspect that your building has an indoor air quality problem or if you or others at your office are experiencing health or comfort problems that you suspect may be caused by indoor pollution, remember the following:
- Inform the building management of your concerns. Be sure to follow the proper channels.
- Talk with your doctor or other health care provider, and report your problems to the company physician, nurse, or health and safety officer.
- Cooperate with management during any indoor air quality investigation. Your input can aid in the sometimes difficult process of identifying and solving problems.
If you have any indoor air quality questions or other safety & health related questions, please leave us a comment below or contact us by clicking here. If you are looking for safety training related to this (or any other subject), check out our Training Services page to see what we currently have scheduled. Lastly, if you need monitors for air quality testing or personal monitors for employees, our Technical Services has safety equipment for sale or rent!