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Workplace Air Quality: What are you breathing?

Posted on August 26, 2014
by Wendy Stackhouse

With Americans working longer hours in the quest for greater productivity, we are spending more and more time indoors at our workplaces–offices, factories, restaurants, hospitals. What are we breathing all that time?

The US Department of Labor defines good workplace air quality as air with: “comfortable temperature and humidity, adequate supply of fresh outdoor air, and control of pollutants from inside and outside of the building.”

How do I know if my workplace has good indoor air quality?

This is a difficult question to answer, if there are no discernible problems. Workplace air quality challenges tend to come with some circumstantial evidence like:

  • Unexplained odors
  • Stuffiness
  • Symptoms that disappear when workers go home, like allergies, irritated eyes or throat, headaches, fatigue

Those are the small annoyances. Particularly bad indoor air can cause:

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pneumonia
  • Asthma attacks

What kind of contaminants are affecting workplace air quality?

Photocopy machines and other electronic devices can emit ozone.

Ingredients in the toner used by copy machines and printers contains chemicals that can irritate and evaporates into the air.

Other typical office supplies that pollute the air include¬†glue, rubber cement, inks, carbon paper, and correction fluid. Good thing we don’t use as much of those these days.

Cleaning products used by maintenance staff can have harmful Volatile Organic Compounds.

Furniture and cubicle walls in office buildings are often made of laminates and the adhesives used to make these materials are polluting the air.

Have a garage in the basement? Car exhaust may very well be entering the building.

Contaminants in the ventilation system itself, like mold and bacteria can be circulated throughout a building.

What can I do to improve the indoor air at work?

Do some research about your building. Talk to the maintenance department about what products they use and when they do work that might have a greater effect on indoor air. Request that big projects be tackled on the weekends, when fewer people are in the office.

Get a plant! A bit of green on your desk is not only beautiful, it can clean some of those chemicals out of your indoor environment. Today, we have been recommending Sansevieria or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue. It doesn’t take up a lot of space but it absorbs¬†formaldehyde, chloroform, benzene, xylene, and trichloroethylene.

If the ventilation system in your building is not being cleaned on a regular schedule, find out why. Good maintenance is the key to a healthy building!

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