The importance of good air quality in the workplace

Occupational Matters

Friday, 23 September, 2016

The importance of good air quality in the workplace

Indoor pollution is causing a greater number of health-related implications, with many office environments affected by what is known as ‘sick building syndrome’.

A building’s poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is due to tightly sealed buildings which do not allow indoor air to escape or outdoor air to enter. These buildings tend to be constructed via cost-effective measures and have poor ventilation to save energy.

Synthetic building materials and furnishings release fibres that contribute to poor air quality, as does the increased usage of chemicals such as personal care products, pesticides, office chemical products and household cleaners. The symptoms of this syndrome can include headaches, dizziness and sinus congestion, itchy or watery eyes, scratchy throats and lack of concentration.

Emission source inputs from technology at home, in the car and at the workplace can affect IAQ. Combustion pollutants include CO, NOX and SO2, and are emitted by fuel sources being used within a small area. They lower ventilation by absorbing already reduced oxygen levels. Heating, cooking appliances and pollutants can induce typical respiratory complaints.

Indoor ventilation is a problem, as it causes occupants to breathe in recycled air and traps pollutants. Pollutants entering the indoor area can be classified into dust, pollen, biological spores (mould/bacteria), moisture content, high temperatures and emission inputs.

What are the solutions?

Air quality can be improved by eliminating pollutants, controlling emission inputs, increasing ventilation and adding air cleaners to enclosed area.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Keep indoor humidity to below 60% (the optimum level is 30–50% relative humidity).
  • Lower humidity by the addition of a humidifier.
  • Control or repair water leaks and clear damaged furnishings or carpet immediately, as dry surfaces stop mould growth.
  • Air conditioner drip trays and filters should be regularly maintained.
  • Ensure combustion emissions are redirected to the outside environment.
  • Minimise dust by thorough cleaning of indoor areas including furnishings, surfaces and air conditioner filters.
  • Improve airflow by checking that the ventilation system is delivering the correct air exchanges to area (the optimum rate is 10 air exchanges).
  • Upgrade ventilation to include a pollutant-removing function.
  • Reduce use of chemicals indoors, such as aerosols, paints, solvents, air fresheners, cleaners and fume-producing consumables.
  • Conduct regular maintenance of ventilation systems.
  • Identify biological contaminants by testing to reduce allergic and respiratory reactions.

An Occupational Matters hygienist can complete IAQ testing to detect the possible source of contaminants and concentrations and ensure occupational workplace safety. 

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