The coronavirus outbreak brought heightened awareness to the importance of indoor air quality (IAQ) in the workplace. However, the concern for people’s well-being in buildings such as office spaces and schools existed long before the pandemic. These types of buildings are home to a variety of potential air contamination sources, including volatile organic compounds (from cleaning agents, furniture, carpets, etc.), bacteria, mold, and viruses. Proper building management is essential when considering the safety of its occupants and potential health risk sources are abundant. Outlined below we have detailed why healthy indoor air quality is so important, how you can identify it, and what to do to prevent or mitigate it.
What Happens When You have Poor Indoor Air Quality?
According to OSHA, “poor IAQ has been tied to symptoms like headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.” Additionally, connections have been made to specific diseases such as asthma and cancer. Some studies have even linked poor IAQ to lack of productivity. We all want to know that when we go to the office or send our children to school that these are safe places to breathe the air. The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a bright light on this IAQ issue, one that many organizations have already been working to correct. However, there is still much work to be done to keep everyone as safe as possible.
How Can You Identify Poor Indoor Air Quality?
There is no single test for determining an IAQ problem; however, there are signs to look for that could indicate need for an assessment. Buildings that have an unpleasant or musty odor or feel hot and stuffy may have an IAQ issue. Another indicator could be that several employees find that they get headaches or feel tired when they are at work but feel fine at home. Other more blatant indicators are the presence of water damage, leaks, dirt, or pest droppings; a poorly functioning HVAC system; and absence of regular building inspections and/or maintenance.
How Can You Prevent Poor Indoor Air Quality?
- Make sure that your building has the necessary infrastructure to ensure that the facility manager can both identify and mitigate potential contaminant issues. If there is no active building maintenance and/or if there is no real ability to address issues when they arise, then the problem can escalate quickly and become quite costly to address.
- Always comply with or create a building smoking policy.
- Make sure that office furniture, partitions, and equipment are placed with air circulation, temperature control, and pollutant removal functions of the HVAC system in mind.
- Maintain good cleaning practices: don’t block air vents or grilles, clean up water spills promptly, store food properly, and dispose of garbage promptly and properly.
Once You Find Poor Indoor Air Quality, What Do You Do?
If you are suspicious that your building is suffering from poor air quality, you can request a free Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Once a problem is identified, you can then determine the next steps necessary to fix the problem.
When testing is required to mitigate IAQ issues in a building, there are two standards that have been established: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and the WELL Building Standard (WELL). Both standards exist to promote clean air building practices and reduction or minimizing of indoor air pollution sources.
Why COVID-19 is More Challenging When Considering Air Quality
Infection control is more complicated when considering building management. With any virus, airborne transmission is a serious concern and diagnosing this kind of risk is difficult. Additionally, costs associated with mitigating risks such as these are considerably higher than other air quality risks. Therefore, it is important to have access to the best testing facilities and resources that so that you can be confident that your building has been adequately evaluated.