Check your indoor air quality as you re-open your school or business

Man identifying OSHA penalties

By K.A. Danko, U.S.

Air quality is important to the health, comfort, morale, well-being and productivity of students and employees.

If you are getting ready to re-open your school or facility, checking your building’s air quality should be on your to-do list. With many people spending 40 hours a week indoors, in close quarters, along with the risk now of contracting COVID-19, a healthy indoor environment is essential. Air quality is important to employees’ health, comfort, well-being, morale and productivity.

It’s essential to be proactive and take steps to identify potential air quality problems before they lead to discomfort and illness. Failure to maintain good indoor air quality can put you in violation of OSHA air quality regulations that carry expensive fines. While fines for poor air quality at work are hefty, the immeasurable consequences of illness, reduced productivity, decline in employee morale and increased absences are likely to do more damage and cost you more money than the fines themselves.

What is indoor air quality?

Indoor air quality is defined as the temperature, humidity and freshness of the air inside a building. For proper indoor air quality, building air should have comfortable temperature and humidity, sufficient ventilation, an adequate supply of fresh air from outdoors, and careful management of pollutants from indoor and outdoor sources.

Why it is important

Heat, humidity, and pollution all affect health and well-being. The air quality in a building should not cause sickness or make it so employees can’t work efficiently because of their discomfort. Mold, chemical and biological contaminants and buildups of carbon dioxide in indoor air often contribute to employees’ unwellness in the workplace.

When employees feel that the office environment is too hot, too cold, too humid or too dry — or when they experience constant dry, irritated eyes, throats, and skin — poor air conditions can lead to measurable consequences like:

  • Diminished concentration and problem-solving abilities
  • Lack of focus
  • Decreased energy
  • Decreased job satisfaction and morale
  • Decreased work efficiency and productivity
  • Increased use of sick days

How to tell if indoor air quality is a problem

The air at your workplace may not be meeting OSHA indoor air quality standards if any of the following scenarios apply at work:

  • You have unexplained occurrences of eye or respiratory inflammation, skin irritation, dizziness, nausea, fatigue or flu-like symptoms.
  • You have symptoms that occur only at work or diminish outside of work.
  • Your symptoms started with something new at work, like construction or a new pest control regimen, or are similar to symptoms described by others at your workplace.
  • Allergy testing reveals an allergy to specific chemicals found at your workplace.
  • Asthma or allergies are worsening without a known cause.

Causes of poor indoor air quality

Poor indoor air quality commonly results from the following factors:

  • Poor ventilation: In 52% of cases, inadequate ventilation is at fault in poor indoor air quality. Poor ventilation can result from a problem with the HVAC system or from poor building design in which the flow of contaminated air channels through workspaces instead of out of the building. Without proper ventilation, pollutants build up in the environment and cause illness.
  • Poor temperature regulation: The temperature in a building depends on several factors — indoor sources of heat and cooling such as the HVAC system, exposure to sunlight, the outdoor temperature, insulation and ventilation. If building managers fail to adjust for these temperature factors, the workspace becomes uncomfortably sweltering or chilly.
  • Poor humidity regulation: Too much humidity is uncomfortable, and it encourages mold growth and attracts pests. Too little humidity — often a problem in winter, when the heating system dries out the air — causes dry, irritated skin. It can also dry out sinuses and lead to nosebleeds.
  • Irregular maintenance of the HVAC, exhaust and ventilation systems: Without regular maintenance, these systems become contaminated, clogged or broken. When they cannot function efficiently, pollutants build up.
  • Construction or remodeling: Construction work stirs up dust and other particulates. Particleboard, paint, carpet, adhesives and other construction materials contain pollutants can cause inflammation when they reach the respiratory system or contact skin.
  • Improper use of cleaning supplies, pesticides and other airborne chemicals: Using airborne chemicals in high-traffic areas, during peak hours or without proper ventilation reduces air quality and leads to illness.
  • Moisture from flooding, leaks or high humidity: The resulting mold proliferates beneath carpet and in ductwork, insulation, showers, and dirty or clogged HVAC drain pans. It produces a musty smell at best and — in the worst-case scenario — mycotoxins that are harmful to human health.
  • Smoking: Tobacco smoke is a major contributor to poor indoor air quality. Many respirable indoor air particulates — those that can be breathed into the lungs — come from tobacco smoke.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): These compounds — which evaporate at room temperature into the air and can be breathed in — include paints, stains, waxes, cleaners, lubricants, air fresheners, fuels, glues, perfumes and even the chemicals from dry-cleaned clothes. These decrease the air quality in the workplace, especially when combined with improper ventilation.
  • Pests: Bat and bird droppings, along with vermin like roaches, rats and mice, cause allergic reactions and spread airborne diseases.

What can you do now?

Look into getting the you need to test your air quality or call in the experts to help. Zefon International offers a wealth of state-of-the-art, industry-leading equipment to keep indoor air quality high and employees healthy, comfortable and high-functioning. A small investment in air quality testing leads to immeasurable benefits for health and productivity in the workplace — and Zefon can help your workplace meet OSHA air quality standards to achieve those goals. Give them a call at 1-800-282-0073 or email zefonCS@zefon.com.

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