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Workplace Health and Safety

Let’s Clear the Air: A Guide to Tackling Workplace Pollutants

In the United States, an estimated one million buildings contain poor indoor air quality (IAQ), with levels of indoor pollutants often four or five times higher than those outside. Additionally, more than one-half of these indoor air problems are the result of inadequate or improperly operated and poorly maintained heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems.

Poor ventilation in commercial buildings including offices, auditoriums, factories, schools, and hospitals have a direct effect on workplace health, safety and overall productivity.

Diagnosing building-related illness

According to ASHRAE, building-related illness (BRI) can be found in nearly two-thirds of workplace buildings, and a building is deemed “sick” when 20 percent of its occupants voluntarily complain of discomfort symptoms for periods exceeding two weeks. Adverse health effects can include headaches, fatigue, and eye, nose, and throat irritation.

Common pollutants causing IAQ problems include fungi, dust, and chemicals from new carpeting, paint, and furniture, directly impacting rates of absence, work performance, and health care costs.

Strategies for achieving acceptable IAQ

The highest priority in improving IAQ is the reduction of emission substances into the indoor environment. For building owners and operators, this means working in the conceptual stages with those involved in design and construction to carefully select the best materials, furnishing, carpets, and paints to help limit emissions. By using low-emitting materials, the need for ventilation may be reduced and air quality may be improved.

Building owners and operators may also find filtration of outdoor air and/or the use of air cleaning technologies an effective way of improving IAQ. Changing air filters regularly and annual HVAC audits minimize indoor air pollutants, maximize energy efficiency and provide a safe and healthy workplace.

ASHRAE’s resources on IAQ

The ASHRAE and its more than 56,000 members worldwide work tirelessly to improve IAQ in commercial buildings. Through this work, the Society continuously creates and advances toward a future where the built environment is healthier, more comfortable and more energy efficient, which will, in turn, produce a more sustainable world for future generations.

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