Steps Can You Take to Eliminate Indoor Air Hazards

Steps Can You Take to Eliminate Indoor Air Hazards

If your workers are frequently ill or they complain about symptoms such as headaches, itchy eyes, scratchy throats, stuffy and sneezy noses, coughs or nausea that clear up once they leave the office, then poor indoor air quality—or IAQ—may be to blame. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, poor indoor air quality costs U.S. businesses tens of billions of dollars every year in lost productivity and added healthcare expenses.

What Constitutes an Indoor Air Hazard?

The air quality in your workplace is affected by a very large number of factors. The building itself—from its architectural design to its physical location—can play a part. Renovations produce excessive dust, while leaks allow the penetration of exterior moisture, leading to dampness and mold growth. Overcrowded offices and improperly operated and maintained HVAC systems can also cause a reduction in indoor air quality—as can the presence of contaminants founds in cleaning supplies, formaldehyde from carpeting, and ozone from copy machines.

Indoor air hazards typically fall into three categories. Biological pollutants include the mold mentioned earlier as well as animal dander, bacteria, viruses, fungi and pollen. Chemical pollutants include gases from products used within the building as well as chemical fumes that are drawn into the workplace from outside. Particle pollutants included dust—one of the biggest culprits in most offices—as well as dirt and other solid or liquid substances.

What Steps Can You Take to Eliminate Indoor Air Hazards?

Fortunately, poor IAQ is a solvable problem for most workplaces. Assessing the situation is the first step you must take. This may include surveying your employees on their symptoms as well as reviewing your workplace illness and injury records. The information you gather should help you ascertain the size of the issue. From there, consider the following actions to improve the indoor air quality in your workplace.

  1. Identify pollutant sources – Take a look at the products used within your workplace, from cleaning supplies to printer ink and bathroom tissue. If you find any that contain contaminants known to cause the symptoms your employees are experiencing, replace those products with healthier alternatives. Professional air monitoring tests may be helpful in the identification of potential contaminants.
  1. Keep your workplace clean – Dust surfaces—including walls—regularly and vacuum floors as frequently as possible. Avoided piles of clutter and office supplies as these only serve to collect more dust. If you cannot afford professional custodial services, require your employees to tidy their area daily.
  1. Evaluate air circulation – “Stale air” contains higher levels of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. It may be created when indoor air is excessively re-circulated or when the office ventilation is not sufficient to account for the number of workers within a given space. Opening windows may help, as will adjustments to your building’s ventilation system. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers—or ASHRAE—recommends a ventilation system provide your office with 20 cubic feet of fresh outside air per minute per person.
  1. Control for temperature and humidity – To optimize indoor air quality, experts recommend keeping the interior temperature of your workplace between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit as well as maintaining humidity between 30 and 60 percent. This adjustment alone can dramatically reduce the incidence of upper respiratory symptoms in the workplace.
  1. Maintain your HVAC system – A properly functioning heating, ventilation and air conditioning system is essential to the elimination of dangerous indoor air hazards. At minimum, you should schedule professional servicing of your HVAC system at least once a year. Even better, invest in maintenance every spring and fall. File copies of maintenance records so they may be analyzed in the event that poor indoor air quality problems pop up again.


Your Workplace Injury Policy Could Put You At Risk

Your Workplace Injury Policy Could Put You At Risk

Most employers are aware of their legal requirement to provide a safe working environment where staff can perform duties—from reception to construction, research to hospitality—free from recognized health and safety hazards. However, some forget that the Occupational Safety and Health Act also prohibits employers from discriminating against their workers for reporting potentially dangerous situations, illnesses or injuries incurred on the job.

In 2014 the U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against The Ohio Bell Telephone Company—operating under the name AT&T—after the company suspended 13 workers without pay for reporting workplace injuries. While AT&T’s actions blatantly violated the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act of 1970, discriminatory workplace injury policies are often much more subtle—so much so in fact that you may not even be aware that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would deem your company’s practice unlawful.

Consider these very common yet potentially discriminatory policies that could discourage employee reporting of illnesses and injuries. If you recognize any from your own company practices, you may want to contact a workplace safety consultant or OSHA’s Office of Whistleblower Protection Programs for guidance on appropriate changes.

Disciplinary Action as a Result of Injury – If a workplace injury policy requires an employer to take disciplinary action against an employee who is injured on the job—regardless of the circumstances surrounding the injury—OSHA may consider it discriminatory. Such a policy aggressively discourages workers from reporting injuries or illnesses (always a protected action under the OSH Act) and is in conflict with the employer’s obligation to establish a method for such reporting.

Disciplinary Action for Violating Reporting Procedure – As an employer, you want your workers to follow established procedures for reporting illnesses and injuries. However, if you take disciplinary action against an employee who reports an injury because he or she did not follow the proper procedure when making the report, OSHA may consider your policy discriminatory—especially if your procedural rules are unreasonable, make compliance difficult, or are accompanied by unjustifiably harsh sanctions.

Disciplinary Action Post-Injury for Violation of Safety Rule – Establishing and communicating the consequences of violating workplace safety rules are important steps in the construction and management of any workplace safety program. However, if your company has a policy to discipline injured workers for their violation of safety rules, OSHA may find it discriminatory—especially if you have never imposed equivalent discipline against uninjured employees for rule violation.

Incentivizing Employees to Avoid Reporting Injuries – If you award bonuses to employees or enter them in drawings for prizes if they are accident-free, you may be unintentionally encouraging your workers to refrain from reporting injuries and illnesses sustained on the job. OSHA suggests you avoid this potentially discriminatory workplace policy by incentivizing your employees’ consistent participation in safety-related activities—such as workshops and safety training—rather than compensating them for an absence of injury.