How’s Your Indoor Air Quality?

March 22, 2013

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Indoor air quality in many commercial or industrial buildings is an issue that often goes overlooked. Certainly, if your facility uses harsh or toxic chemicals you pay attention. But many commercial and industrial facilities don’t use dangerous or toxic materials and, therefore, little attention is given to indoor air quality. That can be a mistake. 

Poor air quality may lead to health problems in your employees, contamination to the manufacturing process and spoilage to your products. Too often companies don’t consider this issue until it is has manifested itself in costly ways. Better to spend some time before employees become sick than to wait until after.

Here are some tips that will help you do some in house evaluation of the quality of the air within your facility. Should a problem arise there are resources available to help you further (American Industrial Hygienist Association; the EPA; National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).

Conduct an air quality inspection

Look for excessive dust build up. Is the facility generally clean? Are there chemicals stored that might be leaking or even chemical spills that have gone unobserved? Is there water damage that might be causing mold growth? Think about not only what you see, but also what you might smell. Odors, beyond the typical manufacturing process, may give you insight into indoor air quality issues.

Consider your ventilation and HVAC system

Many facilities rely on outside air to help with ventilation and cooling. Consider the ramifications of outside, unfiltered ventilation. Pollen, allergens and automotive exhaust may enter the building and could create issues if they build up in a poorly ventilated area. Is your HVAC leaking? Might there be issues in the drain pans or drains themselves that lead to mold growth?

Check your roof system

Leaky roofs are often difficult to repair and are sometimes seen as simply something to be endured. This can lead to significant issues, not only structurally, but also with respect to air quality. Look for signs in the ceiling insulation and visible substrata. Those water stains may be a clue to moisture retention, which can significantly impact air quality.

Monitor employee health and complaints

It goes without saying that companies are concerned about their employees. However, many companies don’t have a system in place to monitor the patterns evident in their employees’ health and workplace complaints. They simply go in a file. Patterns in their complaints can give you insight to potential air quality problems (or other issues such as poor working conditions, work place stress, or poor employee management). Patterns in illness or odor complaints can give you significant insight into air quality. Obviously, if five employees all report a nauseous odor in one day, you will pay attention. What if five employees report a nauseous odor over a period of three months? Do you have a method to track that?

What to do if you suspect air quality issues

Address the problem. Don’t ignore it or diminish it. Failure to do so swiftly may lead to employee illness and litigation. Clean up obvious issues (dust, chemicals, etc.). In some cases, you may want to have an industrial painting company come in and provide cleanup and coatings that will resist future issues.

Don’t be afraid to follow up with employees and to gather input from them regarding potential air quality issues. Listen to what they are telling you, and watch for patterns in their concerns.

Deal with roofing issues. With today’s elastomeric roof coatings, there is no need for companies to put up with ongoing roof leaks. Don’t assume that leaks are simply a nuisance or a one-time occurrence. Watch them carefully and deal with them swiftly.

Contact an HVAC contractor to evaluate your ventilation issues. Pay attention especially to two extremes: is your building too tight; or is it to open to outside ventilation problems?

Finally, if the problem persists or if it is at all serious, contact an indoor quality specialist. Get some help. Doing nothing is a really bad idea. Problems don’t simply go away. You might start with contacting an industrial hygienist. The long term health of your company may depend upon it.

Questions or comments?

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