We all like to breathe easily. And there’s a reason people go outside to get “fresh air.” Studies conducted by the EPA indicate that pollutants inside workplaces can be five times worse than outdoors. So, to what extent are employers responsible for the air quality inside their workplaces?
Indoor air quality (IAQ), sometimes called “indoor environmental quality,” is impacted by the activities occurring within the space. An office building will face very different air challenges than a factory or warehouse.
OSHA does not have specific indoor air quality standards, per se. But that doesn’t suggest overlooking the importance of IAQ. Employers are still bound by the General Duty Clause to “provide workers with a safe workplace that does not have any known hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious injury.”
It’s worth noting that OSHA does have standards related to ventilation and some of the contaminants that frequently create IAQ issues. Some states also have their own IAQ standards, and local regulations may also apply.
In short, air quality inspections are a valuable practice because companies must stay aware of the potential for poor air quality and are responsible for informing employees about any hazards they may encounter at work.
Clean breathing air should be an expectation of any employee. Factors that improve air quality include proper temperature and humidity levels and control of pollutants from inside and outside the building. An adequate supply of fresh outdoor air also contributes to good indoor air quality.
NIOSH analyzed hundreds of its IAQ investigations and found that the most common causes of IAQ problems were inadequate ventilation and contamination from inside and outside the building. Not exactly shocking, but other common sources of air quality problems include:
A good quality indoor environment is about more than just meeting compliance requirements (although that is a good reason for paying close attention to your IAQ). There are other tangible benefits beyond avoiding fines, including some that positively affect your bottom line.
According to EPA research, poor indoor air quality costs businesses billions of dollars annually in lost productivity and sick leave. Clean air reduces absenteeism. Extra attention was focused on this fact during the COVID pandemic, when numerous studies found that improved ventilation with optimal temperature and humidity levels reduce viral spread and risk.
Another cost benefit to good IAQ is reduced energy consumption. HVAC systems run better and more efficiently when clean. Reducing contaminants and irritants reduces your energy expenses.
We’ve already mentioned that poor air quality can lead to absenteeism at work, but from a more elevated view, poor environmental quality is associated with many short- and long-term health issues, including:
Given that any combination of contaminants can show up in an air sample, there’s no single test to identify any or all air quality issues. A thorough analysis would be similar to walking into a doctor’s office and saying, “I want to test for everything I might have.”
Instead, a series of tests make a complete investigation. This can begin with a visual assessment and include an inspection of air flow, ventilation, and HVAC systems. Testing also includes taking samples and measuring for the identification of many different contaminants such as:
As with the medical example, a professional approach to air quality testing is necessary to identify the obvious and hidden issues. The specific testing must account for the particular workspace under investigation, and professional analysis of the results will yield the best remediation and control plans.
SITEX conducts commercial and industrial air quality testing and monitoring, and offers expert analysis to reduce and eliminate potential health hazards. Complete the form to speak with an expert from SITEX who can customize monitoring solutions that will keep your workplace compliant and your staff healthy and on the job.