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Workplace Pollution and 4 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality

01 July 2019

Employers must consider how to improve indoor air quality in office conditions because workplace pollution can be detrimental to employees' health. Pollutants can trigger asthma, headaches and other unpleasant symptoms for those who are susceptible.

By addressing some of the common components of workplace pollution, employers can help improve quality of life for their employees.

Workplace Pollution and Its Impacts on the Workforce

Employees are often concerned about workplace air quality. For example:

  • Temperatures are too hot or too cold.
  • Air ventilation is too drafty or too stale.
  • Humidity is too high.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, explains that poor air quality can cause a variety of health issues if not properly addressed. For instance, warm and humid environments can create mold. As the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) explains, many studies show that poorly ventilated workspaces can increase cold and flu germs. The repercussions of these outcomes are obvious: Workers are more likely to be sick or be affected by the poor air quality inside the office environment.

Preventing Poor Air Quality Issues

OSHA requires employers to provide safe environments free of known hazards. Luckily, the AIHA, OSHA and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) all offer suggestions for how to improve indoor air quality in office conditions. The list below includes some of the common elements of a healthy work environment:

  1. Clean regularly. Vacuuming and cleaning work surfaces on a regular basis can keep mold spores and dust from building up over time. Take care to avoid the heavy use of chemicals, as they can irritate people who are sensitive to odors and chemical smells. If using chemicals, look for ways to ventilate the area properly.
  2. Avoid blocking air vents. HVAC systems help move air through buildings. However, when workers get cold, they can block or redirect air from vents, causing the carefully designed air ventilation system to be disrupted. Instead of blocking vents, look for ways to move affected workers out of the path of the air when possible.
  3. Minimize or eliminate plants. Greenery in the office can be relaxing, but it can also contribute to higher levels of moisture and potential contaminants in the air, according to Harvard research. If air quality is an issue, consider removing the plants, or move them to an outdoor break area where workers can enjoy the foliage without the complications of indoor air quality.
  4. Keep contaminants away from workspaces. Removing or limiting the introduction of new contaminants to the workplace can minimize issues with air quality. Activities like smoking or running a copy machine all create small particles that can irritate workers and compromise air quality. These types of activities should occur in designated areas with proper ventilation as far from habitable work environments as possible.

Air quality issues should not be ignored; the AIHA estimates that about one in 10 workers is affected by poor air quality. By addressing some of the common components that can affect air quality, employers can eliminate yet another barrier to productivity and worker performance.