Environmental Permitting

What You Can Do to Prevent and Control IAQ Problems

According to OSHA, “Management needs to be receptive to potential concerns and complaints and train workers on how to identify and report air quality concerns.” If employees have issues, it’s the job of leaders to assess the situation and take corrective action.

Building owners and managers should develop and implement an IAQ management plan to address, prevent, and resolve problems. EPA recommends selecting an IAQ coordinator and policies, assessing the current status of indoor air quality through periodic inspections, performing necessary repairs and upgrades, and implementing follow-up assessments or other needed steps.

If you lease space, you should become familiar with the building management’s strategy for resolving IAQ problems. It’s important to know whom to contact in buildings where there is mixed use and pollutants may come from a variety of sources. Leases should specify IAQ performance criteria, such as specific rates of ventilation.

OSHA recommends a team approach to solving problems and building consensus around indoor air. An IAQ team should include building occupants, administrative staff, facility operators, maintenance staff, healthcare staff, contract service providers, and other interested individuals.

Control Methods

There are three primary methods of reducing indoor air pollutants. The first is source management, which is considered the most effective. It involves the removal, substitution, and enclosure of sources. An example is installing low-volatile organic compound (VOC) carpets. Another is establishing temporary barriers to contain pollutants during construction.

The second category is engineering controls. An example is a local exhaust system such as a canopy hood that removes sources of pollutants before they can be dispersed into a building’s indoor air. A well-designed and functioning HVAC system controls temperature and humidity levels.

This provides comfort and it dilutes and removes odors and other contaminants. Air cleaning systems also fall under engineering controls. These systems remove particles from the air as it passes through the HVAC equipment.

Administrative controls are management activities that keep employees from IAQ hazards. Among these is scheduling work to eliminate or reduce the amount of time an employee is exposed. For example, maintenance or cleaning should be scheduled when fewer building occupants are present.

Educating building occupants is another administrative control. If people who work in the building are knowledgeable about the sources and effects of pollutants and about operation of the ventilation system, they can take steps to reduce their personal exposure.

Good housekeeping can also help. Recommended practices include:

  • Using mat systems that prevent dirt from entering the environment,
  • Disposing of garbage promptly,
  • Storing food properly, and
  • Choosing cleaning products that minimize pollutants.

OSHA suggests the following steps employers can take to improve indoor air quality:

  • Maintain a good working relationship with building management on indoor air issues.
  • Place furniture and equipment in locations based on adequate air circulations, temperature control, and pollutant removal functions of the HVAC system.
  • Coordinate with building managers on responsibility for design, operation, and maintenance of the ventilation system.
  • Integrate IAQ concerns into purchasing decisions.
  • Work with the building manager to ensure that only necessary and appropriate pest-control practices are used. Use nonchemical methods, when possible.
  • Work with building management and the contractor before remodeling or renovating to identify ways to minimize occupant exposure.
  • Encourage the building manager to develop an IAQ management program.

Good management and work practices can help resolve many IAQ problems, but outside help is sometimes needed.

OSHA suggests building owners or managers start by contacting local, state, or federal agencies for help and for recommendations on the type of experts needed.These could include structural engineers, architects, mechanical engineers, or industrial hygienists.

Be sure that any specialist or IAQ consultant meets licensing or certification requirements. A consultant should base any testing requirements on a thorough visual inspection, a walk-around, and interviews with building occupants.

Audits can reveal problems like building dampness and improperly functioning equipment, which, if not identified, can lead to complex and costly repairs.