Air quality is divided into two categories: indoor air quality and environmental air quality. Outdoor air pollution gets a lot of attention – and rightly so – but typical workers spend 40 or more hours a week breathing in the air inside their workplaces.
Improving outdoor air quality can be a monumental task. Thankfully, indoor air quality is much easier to control, filter, and regulate.
In this article, we'll share some tips on how to protect your workers' health by improving the air quality in your workspace.
The Air We Breathe
From a health perspective, there are few things more important than the air we breathe. Yet, many of us take for granted that our air is pure and fresh. In many workplaces, however, that isn't the case. There are hundreds of jobs where clean air is hard to come by and having a mask or respirator is just part of the job.
But even if your workplace doesn't require full face respirators, that doesn't necessarily mean that your air quality is a non-issue (find out more in Indoor Air Quality: The Invisible Hazard in Every Workplace).
Improving Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air quality, particularly in confined spaces, is a 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.
Not every company, however, has the size or budget to hire a dedicated safety team to monitor the air quality. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to improve the air quality even if you're a small or medium enterprise, or in charge of the safety of an office building.
A Simple Air Quality Test
The first thing you can do is check the quality of your air. You don't need anything fancy to do this. There's a simple trick to see how dirty your air all it requires is an 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 the sheet in place over the vents and turning on the fan.
Change Air Filters Regularly
If you notice lots of particles on the sheet, it might be time to look at your air filtration.
Air filters tend to be tucked away out of sight, and they usually don't need to be changed on weekly basis. So, they're easy to forget and they can go neglected to the point of being far less effective
If your building has heat or A/C (and chances are good that it does), 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 last changed and how often they are replaced.
Auto and cab filters also contribute to air quality. If the A/C stops working in any of your company vehicles, check the air filter – a clogged air filter can inhibit the use of A/C in a vehicle or piece of equipment.
Outdoor Air Quality
Outdoor air essentially includes all air intake that isn't monitored or filtered. Whether you're on a dusty jobsite or going outside during your break, your air is not being filtered.
With that in mind, try to be aware of what the quality of air is like in the outdoor environment at or near your jobsite. For example, if there have been many forest fires nearby, the air is likely smoky and hazardous to your workers' health if they spend a significant amount of time outside. In general, try to avoid placing outdoor workers near busy roadways or during rush hour. Also, check the local air quality index before going outside.
If the outdoor environment has poor air quality, consider using respiratory protection. Remember that just because they're outside, your workers are not necessarily getting fresh air. There are a variety of masks that will provide dust filtration or protection from allergens. These vary in effectiveness and style, so do your research before counting on it to keep protecting everyone when the air quality index plunges.
While it's not always possible, remember that the simplest solution is always to minimize exposure to pollution, smoke, and other contaminants (for advice on how to do it, check out How to Understand Air Pollution and Be Prepared for High Risk Days).
Always make sure workers are equipped with the right PPE for the jobsite and its hazards. This is no different when it comes to air quality. If the jobsite is extremely dusty or there are other fumes in the air, supply your team with the appropriate respirator.
If, however, you are working in a space where air quality is simply assumed to be acceptable, it's worth your time to test that assumption. Offices and even homes are getting more efficient and air tight as time goes on. Unfortunately, that means mold and 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 your workers at ease and help them breathe more freely.