Though concerns about air quality outdoors have been commonplace since the industrial revolution and its accompanying smog and industrial waste, indoor air quality – or lack of it – also poses a serious threat. Studies suggest that pollution in indoor areas is, in fact, twice as bad as pollution outside.
Everything from heating to aerosols has a damaging effect on the indoor environment, as well as the build-up of damp or mold, second-hand smoke, paint and cosmetics. Without taking necessary precautions against these issues, people at a workplace may suffer from allergic reactions, general fatigue, liver, kidney and central nervous system damage, as well as nausea. As such, it is essential that office and factories are equipped with the means to avoid air pollution and that employees are educated as to how they avoid such problems.
Sources of Contaminants at Workplace
Potential sources of contaminants in office buildings include dust; inadequate design or maintenance of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems; cleaning chemicals, which may contain irritant vapor and/or volatile organic compounds, or VOCs; pesticides; building materials; office equipment such as copy machines and printers; furnishings; occupant metabolic wastes (respiration and perspiration); fragrances/cosmetics; and tobacco smoke. Of course, virtually all of these are present to some degree in every building. They cause Indoor air quality problems only when concentrations become excessive. Usually as a result of being generated at a greater rate than they can be removed by the building’s ventilation system.
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Occupants may also unknowingly bring potential contaminant sources into the building on their clothing and their bodies, including dust, consumer products (cleaners, air fresheners, personal hygiene products, etc.) and allergenic particles from their homes, such as cat or dog dander. What occupants do may also affect Indoor air quality, such as blocking air ventilation grills, overusing office chemical products and improperly storing food, which may lead to odors and vermin infestation.
Contaminants may also originate outside the building and enter via the outdoor air intakes or, when more air is removed by the HVAC system from the building than is supplied, creating a negative pressure in the building compared to outdoors. This pressure difference causes unconditioned air to flow into the building through any available gap. Contaminants can also be sent through a building—sometimes with disastrous consequences– from boilers, water heaters and other combustion sources that are not properly ventilated.
Monitor Ventilation and Humidity Control
An easy, quick and free way to improve the air quality of a workplace and although it may sound simple, it is very effective. Simply keep windows open wherever and whenever possible, ensuring that there is a healthy circulation of air at all times.
The most common complaint is related to temperature: the air is either too hot or too cold. The second most common complaint is about air movement: the air is either too drafty or too still. Other common comfort-related complaints involve humidity: the air is too dry or too muggy.
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With the right products, you can monitor the humidity of a given area and ensure that no mold grows there. Ideally, a humidity of 30 to 50% will help to prevent the build-up of mold; Which grows readily in areas in which that is exceeded.
Some health-related complaints associated with poor air quality mimic those of the flu or a cold: headaches, sinus problems, congestion, dizziness, nausea, fatigue and irritation of the eyes, nose or throat. Such symptoms are often difficult to associate with the workplace. The indoor environment is usually not the suspected cause of occupant symptoms unless the symptoms are shared by a number of occupants, found to be unreasonably persistent or there is a distinct and suspect odor or other unusual quality to the air.
How Indoor Air Quality Can Be Improved
Three fundamental measures will greatly improve the indoor air quality at the workplace: good building and ventilation design, effective building maintenance (particularly of the HVAC system) and thoughtfully designed and executed renovation projects. Every building manager should develop a performance profile of the building ventilation system, including analyses of comfort, ventilation and sanitation. In two primary ways this is accomplished.
- Inspecting accessible areas of the system for obvious malfunction, bad design, or contamination
- Determining airflow, temperature, humidity, proper occupancy and air balance (pressure differentials) in representative areas (zones or rooms) of the building
The information developed may reveal problems with the building’s HVAC system. That is, areas in which the system is clearly not performing on par with the remainder of the building. Beyond the initial system profile it is crucial that the HVAC system be routinely inspected and maintained. Maintaining good air quality in a building also requires careful managing of custodial, pest control, and building engineering or contractor maintenance activities. So make sure there is ventilation for good air circulation and persistent moisture.
Indoor air quality concerns are a fact of life for building owners, business owners, managers, and occupants. It is not possible to satisfy every occupant at all times, particularly in the case of thermal comfort. However, it is possible and necessary to provide a work environment that is healthy and safe. Establish clear lines of communication so that Indoor air quality issues can be detected and resolved as soon as possible. A building managed with an eye for preventing air quality problems greatly reduces the likelihood of chronic discomfort. Therefore, it will likely increase building occupants’ productivity.
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