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.
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.
Indoor/Confined Space Air Quality
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.
Change the air filters: 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 you're 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)
For more on how you can improve indoor air quality, read Indoor Air Quality: The Invisible Hazard in Every Workplace.
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. 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 a respirator.
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