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Indoor Air Quality in the Workplace

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Indoor air quality (IAQ) at the office or workplace shares many of the same indoor air quality problems as a home. Building materials, carpets, cleaning products, and poor ventilation can present air quality issues in both environments. However, some IAQ problems such as scents and fragrances, automobile exhaust, cleaning solvents, and manufacturing activities can be more common at the workplace.

Why should an EMPLOYEE care about indoor air quality at work?

As an employee, your health may be at risk from poor IAQ at work. Poor IAQ can worsen allergies and asthma, cause eye, nose and throat irritation, or can result in fatigue, nausea or illness. The health effects of these symptoms can lead to poor work performance and productivity, as well as impacting your own well being. In the long-term, these symptoms could also lead to sickness, missed work and loss of income.

People generally notice their symptoms after several hours at work, and feel better after they have left the building or when they have been away from the building for a weekend or a vacation.

Many of these symptoms may also be caused by other health conditions including common colds or the flu, and are not necessarily due to poor IAQ. This fact can make identifying and resolving IAQ problems more difficult.

Why should an EMPLOYER care about indoor air quality at work?

As an employer you have a responsibility to ensure a safe and healthy work environment. Poor IAQ can impact the health of your employees and result in increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, and potential safety hazards. Increased health claims from IAQ related illnesses can be avoided. Salary costs for absent or unproductive employees can far exceed building operation costs. Talk to your employees today about their air quality concerns.

What are common indoor air contaminants in the workplace?

Here are examples of common indoor air contaminants and their main sources:

Buildings constructed to be energy efficient, i.e. “airtight”, can actually be detrimental to IAQ if they are not properly designed. An inadequate amount of outside air entering and circulating in the building can cause a build-up of air contaminants.

What can I do about IAQ as an EMPLOYEE?

Personal habits often affect the quality of air in the workplace. While many minor problems are insignificant by themselves, every bit of pollution adds up. Do your part to promote a clean, odour-free, pleasant place to work.

What can I do about IAQ as an EMPLOYER?

Take the following steps to help ensure that your workplace and its workers are provided with adequate air quality.

For more detailed information about various indoor air quality parameters, their sources, potential health effects, and acceptable standards, visit hnhu.org.

The parameters and pollutants impacting air quality in the workplace go beyond the size and scope of the information above. However, the following table highlights parameters contributing to indoor air quality in office buildings. For additional information consult with a qualified professional or visit the websites below.

Parameter Source(s) of Parameter Symptoms of Occupants Acceptable Standard
Air Movement HVAC System, Fans Complaints of stuffiness Four air changes per hour
Temperature HVAC System, Outdoor air Thermal discomfort e.g. shivering, sweating Recommended within 20°C – 27°C
Relative Humidity HVAC System, Outdoor air Drying of mucous membranes and skin leading to chapping and irritation R.H. 30% – 60%
Carbon Dioxide Outdoor air, Human metabolism Complaints of stuffiness, Headaches, fatigue Less than [Outdoor CO2 level (ppm) + 700ppm]
Carbon Monoxide Incomplete combustion Headaches, decreased alertness, flu-like symptoms, nausea, fatigue, rapid breathing, chest pain, confusion, impaired judgement 8hr average exposure limit not to exceed 9ppm
Formaldehyde Off-gasing of building materials, cleaning fluids and adhesives Dry or sore throat, nosebleeds, headaches, fatigue, memory and concentration problems, nausea, dizziness, breathlessness, and burning, stinging and pain of the eyes Under 0.1ppm
(Ceiling threshold limit value is 0.3ppm)
Particulates (0.1um – 10um in size) Dust, Fumes, Smoke, Mists, Fog, Fibres, Microorganisms Dependant on properties particulate inhaled.
Dry eyes, irritation of nose, throat and skin, coughing, sneezing and respiratory difficulties
PM10 of 50 ug/m3 for annual exposure and 150 ug/m3 for 24hr exposure
Volatile Organic Compounds
(VOCs)
Plastics, cigarette smoke, floor wax, cleaning compounds, combustion substances, printers and copiers Fatigue, headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, weakness, joint pains, peripheral numbness/tingling, euphoria, chest tightness, unsteadiness, blurred vision, skin and eye irritation Dependant on compound present. Refer to ASHRAE Standards

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