Special Topics in Safety Management

Take Steps to Remove Invisible But Dangerous Indoor Air Hazards

Yesterday, we talked about the problems caused by poor indoor air quality in the workplace. Today, we focus on solutions.

OSHA recommends a systematic approach to indoor air quality problems of the type you use to address other health and safety problems.

"Management needs to be receptive to potential concerns and complaints, and train workers on how to identify and report air quality concerns," says OSHA.

The first step in solving indoor air quality problems is to identify and assess the situation. This may include:

  • Identifying pollutant sources
  • Evaluating the HVAC system
  • Observing production and work processes
  • Measuring contamination levels and employee exposures
  • Conducting medical testing, physical exams, and employee interviews
  • Reviewing medical tests, job histories, and injury and illness records

Control Measures

Once problems have been identified, control measures include:

  • Source management—removal, substitution, or enclosure of pollution sources. OSHA calls this the most effective control method when it can be practically applied.
  • Engineering controls—local exhaust, such as a canopy hood to remove sources of pollutants, general dilution ventilation systems, and testing and rebalancing HVAC systems.
  • Air cleaning—removal of particles from the air as it passes through HVAC equipment.
  • Administrative controls—work schedules that reduce the time a worker is exposed to a pollutant or the amount of chemicals being used near workers, employee education, and good housekeeping.

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Be Proactive

David Zeidner, director of indoor air quality and emergency response for Hygieneering, a Chicago-area environmental consulting firm, says that the best approach for addressing indoor air quality problems in the workplace is to be proactive. Consider calling in a specialist or take other effective action when you see a persistent (or perceived) problem with some regularity.

Zeidner also urges employers to communicate with their employees—find out how they feel and listen to their concerns.

Other suggestions for dealing with a problem include:

  • Conduct an indoor air quality survey.
  • Establish a safety committee indoor air quality subcommittee.
  • Consider earning Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) or other green-building certification.
  • Inspect for dampness, mold, and other problems that affect indoor air quality.
  • Ensure that the building is maintained under a light positive pressure (air comes out of the building when doors are opened).
  • Keep temperatures and humidity within the recommended range (68-70 degrees temperature and 30-60 percent humidity).
  • Monitor CO2 levels.
  • Consistently apply good housekeeping practices.
  • Stay on top of routine preventive maintenance and building upkeep.

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