Air quality is divided into two elements: indoor air quality and environmental air quality. Indoor air quality is relatively easy to control, as the intake of air is monitored and easily filtered. Outdoor air quality is variable and can be harder to change. In this article, we'll share some tips on how to improve air quality in your workspace.
The Air We Breathe
From a health perspective, there isn't anything much more important than the air we breathe, yet many of us take it for granted that our air is pure and fresh. In many areas, however, this is not the case. There are hundreds of jobs where clean air is hard to come by and having a ventilation mask is part of the job. Even if your workplace doesn't have full face respirators as required personal protective equipment (PPE) , that doesn't necessarily mean that air quality is a non-issue. (Find out more in Indoor Air Quality: The Invisible Hazard in Every Workplace.)
Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air quality, particularly in confined spaces, is well known risk to safety. A lot can be floating around in the air in an industrial environment. Factories and industrial complexes monitor and control air quality to limit employees exposure. This is done with a combination of testing, proper ventilation and PPE when exposure cannot be avoided. For the purpose of this article, we're looking at workspaces that probably don't have a dedicated safety team looking at air quality, like an office building or your home.
A Simple Air Quality Test
The first thing you can do is check the quality of your air. A simple trick to see how dirty the air is in your area requires nothing more than a oscillating fan and a dryer sheet. Turn on the fan and then stick the sheet on the rear or intake side of the fan, ensuring that there is no chance of the material getting caught up in the blades or overheating. Run the fan for 15 minutes and check the dryer sheet to see how much dust you have collected. This test can be done in a vehicle too, by taping, or holding in place a sheet over the vents and turning on the fan.
If you notice lots of particles on the sheet, it might be time to look at your air filtration. Often times, air filters are neglected and not changed at regular intervals. If your building has heat or A/C (chances are good that it does), then check the state of the furnace and A/C filters. If you are in a large building, ask the person responsible for building maintenance when the filters were changed last. Auto and cab filters also contribute to air quality. If your A/C stops working, check your air filter, as a clogged air filter can inhibit the use of A/C in a vehicle or piece of equipment. (For information on how to change your cab air filter, check out How to Safely Change Engine Oil in 15 Minutes.)
Outdoor Air Quality
Outdoor air essentially includes all air intake that isn't monitored or filtered. Whether you're on a dusty jobsite or taking the dog for a walk around the block, your air is not being filtered. With that in mind, try to be aware of what the quality of air is like in your outdoor environment. For example, if there have been many forest fires nearby, the air is likely smoky and hazardous to your health if you spend a significant amount of time outside.
In general, try to avoid exercising outside near busy roadways, or during rush hour. Also, check the local air quality index before going outside. There are a variety of options for people looking for masks for dust filtration and/or protection from allergens when out for a jog. These can vary in effectiveness as well as style, so it is important to do your research if you are counting on that protection when the air quality index plunges. The simplest solution is always to minimize exposure to pollution, smoke and other contaminants. (For more on how to be prepare for low quality air environments, check out How to Understand Air Pollution and be Prepared for High Risk Days.)
On the job, be sure to always wear the appropriate PPE. If the jobsite is extremely dusty or there are other fumes in the air, wear the appropriate respirator. If, however, you are working in a space where air quality is simply assumed to be acceptable, it is probably worth your time to test that assumption. Offices and homes are getting more efficient and air tight as time goes on, meaning that mould or other unnoticed air contaminants can stick around for a long time. Testing your air, changing your filters regularly and perhaps even upgrading your filtration systems will put you at ease and help you breathe more freely.