Outdoor air pollution gets a lot of attention, and rightly so. But when it comes to workplace safety, indoor air pollution is often the more pressing issue.
After all, the typical worker will spend 40 or more hours a week breathing the air inside their workplaces. It's important, then, to reduce the amount of contaminants floating around in those spaces.
Improving outdoor air quality is a monumental task, one that no employer could do all by themselves. Thankfully, indoor air quality is far easier to control, filter, and regulate.
In this article, we'll share some tips on how to protect the health of your employees by improving the air quality in your workplace.
The Air We Breathe
Many of us take for granted that the air we breathe is pure and fresh. In many workplaces, however, that simply isn't the case. Not only are there hundreds of jobs that require workers to don respirators to protect them from airborne hazards, but many offices, factories, and other workplaces have air quality hazards that are invisible and difficult to detect.
(Learn more in Indoor Air Quality: The Invisible Hazard in Every Workplace)
Improving Indoor Air Quality
A lot can be floating around in the air in an industrial environment. Factories and industrial complexes monitor and control air quality using a combination of testing, proper ventilation, and PPE when exposure cannot be avoided.
While this is certainly an effective approach, not every company 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, whether you're in charge of a small enterprise or a large office building.
Perform This 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 the air is, and all it requires is an oscillating fan and a dryer sheet.
- Stick the dryer sheet to the rear (intake) side of the fan
- Run the fan for 15 minutes
- Check the dryer sheet to see how much dust and particulate matter has accumulated on it
If the dryer sheet is almost entirely clean, your air almost certainly is as well. But if it has captured quite a bit of particulates, this will give you a sense of just how much of them floating around you.
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. That makes it easy to forget about them. And if they're neglected long enough, they become far less effective.
If your building has heat or air conditioning, check the state of the furnace and A/C filters. If you're in a large facility, ask the person responsible for building maintenance when the filters were last changed and how often they are replaced.
(Find out Why HVAC Winterization Is Important for Health and Safety)
Be Mindful of 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. Avoid placing outdoor workers near busy roadways or during rush hour to limit the amount of exhaust fumes they are exposed to.
Before sending workers out, check the local air quality index to see whether they may need additional protection, such as N95 respirators.
(Learn more in Working Safely When the Air Quality Index Is High)
If you have simply assumed that the air quality in your workplace is acceptable, it's worth putting that assumption to the test. As offices and other buildings become more airtight, there is less fresh outdoor air flowing through them. This allows contaminants to accumulate and can promote the growth of mold.
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.
For all things Respiratory Protection, check out our Respiratory Protection Knowledge Center.